Focus 580; Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Well this morning in this part of focus 580 will be talking about the career of one of America's most celebrated athletes. He was a runner very popular in the 1930s and 40s he won a lot of money became an American cultural icon. He got tremendous coverage in the press. In fact in 1038 maybe his biggest year he got more news coverage than either Franklin Roosevelt or Adolf Hitler. His name was Seabiscuit. He was a racehorse some people would say one of the greatest horses ever in the history of racing. This morning we'll be talking with the author of a new book that is about Seabiscuit and the man who owned him trained him and rode him. Our guest is Laura Hillenbrand. She's been writing about thoroughbred racing for a number of years now. She's a contributing writer and editor to a course magazine and has been there since 1989. Her work has also appeared in a number of other places including American heritage and Talk magazine and other specialty
magazines that are all about racing. And she is the author of the book Seabiscuit an American legend which is just recently out published by Random House and it's a great story even if you're if you're interested in horses you might love this book but even if you'd think you know that you're not interested in horses and racing. I think if you tried it it would grab you pretty quick because the characters in it are fascinating. So it's out there in bookstores if you want to take a look at it and of course as we talk this morning with our guest Laura Hillenbrand questions are welcome. The number here in Champaign Urbana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We also have a toll free line good anywhere that you can hear us around Illinois Indiana. Anywhere the signal will travel that's 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5 3 3 3 0 and toll free 800 2 2 2 0. Ms Helen Brandt hello hello thank you for having me. Well thanks for talking with us I I think it's a really good book and it's a great story. And maybe the reason that it is a great story
is that it has so many great characters in it. Absolutely that's what attracted me to it and it's certainly not just the horse in this one. Where are you. I'm just curious about you. Are you one of those people who when you were a little girl were fascinated with horses and that somehow became a lifelong interest and that's the way you became a journalist who specialized in writing about horses and about racing. Yes. My father had a farm that was next to the empty tin battlefield in Sharpsburg Maryland and he had a lot of space there and people used to drop off horses from the Humane Society horses they didn't want anymore. They had a real motley crew of horses up there and my sister and I would spend time riding them barefoot helmet was very risky stuff. But we really got hooked. Then my father also took me to the races when I was five a little track called Charles town in West Virginia. And I was hooked from the first horse I saw. It's in reading about Seabiscuit and just how famous he
was. It's tempting to reach for comparisons with modern athletes and I don't know if this is over the top but it seemed to me that one might be justified in saying that Seabiscuit was the Michael Jordan of his time. He was and in some ways he was even bigger and it is hard to believe but he wasn't just a bigger news maker than Franklin Roosevelt or Hitler. He was the biggest newsmaker of that year 1938. And I don't think you can say that for Jordan or Tiger Woods or anyone of that sort to to quantify how famous he was. He won a race in Massachusetts and 1937 the Massachusetts handicap and it the following morning a picture of him in an article on his winning the race. Spanned over the entire upper half of the Boston Sunday Globe front page. I don't think Jordan ever did that. So he was. He was huge in large part because of the Depression and escapism. Athletes were
bigger then than they are today. I would not I don't think that I would be able to look at a horse and tell you Well I don't know maybe some horses like to look at a horse and say this horse is going to be a winner. And apparently Seabiscuit was unlikely a bit for that very reason for the way that he looked seasoned judges of horseflesh probably would look have looked at Seabiscuit and said there's no way this horse is going to be horse of the year much less when more money than any horse before. Absolutely. He was very unfortunate in his appearance he was short. He had very short little legs and a little cinder block of a body great big head and his knees didn't straighten all the way. So when he ran one of his forelegs swung out in a very comical fashion one of the writers of the day called it a duck waddle. He was he was funny to watch. He was nothing to look at
and eat it. He ran in these races called claiming races. They still run today where any horse that is in the race is up for sale for a certain set price and you have to buy it before the race. And I don't know how many of those he ran in probably 20 or 30 and he was never bit on one which is quite extraordinary he really nobody saw what was in him until a trainer named Tom Smith took a look at him. Well let's. We should talk about the characters here and maybe we can start with the owner Charles Howard. Who and what was sort of interesting and ironic about him is that this is a guy who made his living selling horseless carriages. Yes it's it's very ironic he this is a man who started out as he was in the cavalry to start out with. He was a very ambitious man this at the turn of the century. He was in the Spanish-American War. And after the war he became a bicycle repair and and he always had this hankering to go west over the Rockies. Like many
Americans at the time he wanted to see the new America. And one day with 21 cents in his pocket he went across the country and showed up in San Francisco and said of a bicycle repair shop there and the automobile showed up at the same time in San Francisco and it was not an auspicious debut. Automobiles were unreliable they were noisy they terrified all the local carriage horses and they were banned in the city. The only people who bought them were very eccentric rich people. There were no auto mechanics yet because there were hardly any automobile owners. So people started bringing their automobiles to Charles Howard and his ambition just collect. When he saw automobiles and he became fascinated he started racing his own and then he went to Detroit introduced himself to Will Durant's who was soon to found General Motors and told him he was his man I want to sell Buicks and Durant's sent him back over the Rockies with three Buick
to sell and Howard couldn't sell him. No one wanted them. And his luck turned on an extraordinary event which was the San Francisco earthquake. And when it struck and fires came up after it wagon horses were useless. They were killed in the earthquake or they broke their legs in the rubble and they were they were absolutely useless for saving people but Howard's cars became ambulances. By one report he actually drove them himself going in and out of the fire to rescue people and that was what what turned people around on automobiles in San Francisco and overnight Howard was a millionaire. And he really drove the horse into extinction on the West Coast. He became the single biggest automobile distributor in the world. He was also one of the investors in what was to become a very famous racetrack outside L.A. said Anita. Yes and the people there decided a guess that they really wanted to establish a big time reputation for the
track and they created a race that offered the biggest purse in the world one hundred thousand dollars which in 1935 was real money. It was real money the average per capita income in the United States at that time was four hundred thirty two dollars and the purse for that race was slightly more than $100000. All to the winner. So this was this was a big pot and and immediately everybody in America wanted to know who would win that race and every good horse in America came to it. And Howard being one of the co-founders of San Anita wanted to win the race itself and that's what turned him around toward horses again and he began looking for a trainer. Let me requote here just introduce Again our guest We're talking with Laura Hillenbrand and she's the author of a recently published book Seabiscuit an American legend published by Random House it is about Seabiscuit who was a racehorse and a very famous one some people think one of the greatest American race horses ever. If you have questions says we continue to talk three
three three w wild toll free 800 1:58 doubly while I'm sorry for cutting on you I think you were about to go on and say some things about Tom Smith that the trainer here is Charles Howard the owner of polar opposite. This is a man who began his life out on the the real Western frontier when it was still a frontier he rode in the last of the cattle drives. He was breaking horses at age 13 and he broke Mustangs for the British in the Boer War ended up in a Wild West shows and gradually the automobile begins to make inroads on this frontier. And this horseman who really knew the ancient arts of horsemanship he learned from the Indians he learned it from being out with these Mustangs and being out on the ranges. He. Becomes obsolete because of the automobile because of Charles Howard's automobile and he ended up training one horse at a little track in Tijuana Mexico and living out of a horse
stall and someone introduced him to Charles Howard who was looking for a trainer and Howard's great strength was he could see potential in unlikely packages and this old man by this time Tom Smith was was no spring chicken. He knew horses and I recognized it. And they formed a partnership and set out to find a race horse. And the story really begins there they they went east. Tom Smith was standing by a track rail in Juneau 1036 Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts just outside Boston and a horse a very ugly horse stopped in front of him during a post parade and looked at him and Smith for the first time somebody recognized the talent in this horse. The horse was Seabiscuit and Tom Smith who hardly ever said anything to anyone said to the horse I'll see you again. He actually said that to the horse.
He said it's a go. Yes. And which is more than he said to most people he would be the Indians called him the lone plainsman in the whiteman call them Silent Tom and it was because he hardly ever spoke. And the the the story was completed a month later when Charles Howard was at Saratoga racecourse with his wife and they looked out of the post-trade and saw a very ugly horse and Howard's wife Marcella thought he was quite funny looking and offered to bet her husband a lemonade that the horse would lose and her husband took the bet and the horse won the race. It was just a cheap little race but he won it and she bought him a lemonade and they started talking about buying a horse and they got Tom Smith to go over and look at the horse and it turned out to be the same one he'd seen at Suffolk Downs and they bought the horse for $8000 which was a bargain price. Seabiscuit had a good boy. God lines his father his grandfather was a very famous racehorse and a man of war and his father
also was a fast horse named hard tack. So you'd think with father and grandfather like that you'd have a good horse on your hand. But somehow Seabiscuit Ahab had had his performance had been under well meaning before. Tom Smith and Charles Howard came along and Howard bought the horse and Tom took over the training. What what was it that Tom Smith was able to do with Seabiscuit that no one had done before. Well see the skit was like his father a very willful animal a very obstreperous animal his father hard tack was a famous rogue he fought everything he was just insane and to the point that they really couldn't train him and they gave up on him he was very fast but just on the movie Seabiscuit was unruly in a different way. He didn't like being forced to do anything. And when anyone used any hints of coercion with him he tended to pretend to be tired or or get
lazy and he would slow down if someone pulled on the right rein he'd go left and someone pulled on the left lane. Go go right. And he didn't want to be forced to do anything and that was the mistake his first trainer made was was trying to force him. What Tom Smith did was there was one critical morning he took the horse out of the track he wanted to see what he had just bought. The exercise rider got on and Seabiscuit proceeded to plunge around the track. Slow down when the rider asked him to speed up speed when the rider asked him to slow down. The rider was barely able to hang on and Smith called out to the rider and just said three words. He said let him go. And the rider let the reins go loose. The horse ran around and around the track trying to irritate the rider and the rider offered no resistance and eventually the horse just got tired walk back to the barn of his own volition and Smith greeted him with a carrot. And it was that one lesson that taught the horse he would never be forced to do anything again. And he is mean and from that day forward the horse never fought a rider again and he was happy and he was
fast. Tom Smith I remember reading in the book that here was a guy who seemed to be able to take courses that other people would have said were washed up were all done and. And in fact make them winners. What was it that this guy had that made him able to connect with animals to understand them in that way and to to take animals that seem to be broken and fix them. I think he paid a lot closer attention towards his than most people did he. I've spoken to people who would watch him work and he would squat down on the floor in front of a horse he had just fought and he would stay there without moving sometimes for hours just watching the horse. And he would in his words he would learn them and he treated every horse as an individual whereas a lot of his colleagues had formulas for training horses one size fits all. Smith didn't do that he understood his horse's mind better than than other trainers did. And I think that was that was the thing that did it. And he would he used very
odd techniques to train horses sometimes and people would gather to watch what he did because they were so strange he would Seabiscuit for instance was quite frightened of the starting gate. When Smith first got him. And this is a thousand pounds of course. It's not a horse you want to be standing right in front of when he's rearing up and banging around in a gate. Well what Smith did was he led the horse into the gate. He stood right in front of the horse under the horse's chin and whenever the horse would act up he would just take a finger and tap the horse on the chest. And when the horse stopped acting up he would stop tapping repeat it over and over sometimes for hours. And by the end of the lesson the horse would be completely docile he felt safe. The horse horses felt safe in his hands. That was one of the axes. One of the exercise writers told me he let the horses learn to trust him and once they trusted what he was doing they would run their hearts out for him.
Another important person here in this story was a jockey who was primarily the jockey for Seabiscuit a jockey name Red Pollard and one of the things that really struck me in that section where you're writing about him is what a terrible job being a jockey would be and I don't know if it still is but you know it's dangerous the pay was bad and. The jockeys would put themselves through an unbelievable stuff to keep their weight down. Yes. It's really it opened my eyes when I started researching this. Just how bad it really was. First of all the danger of it. It's still an extremely dangerous job it's probably the most dangerous sports job you can have. Much more dangerous than auto racing for instance in that era between 1935 and I can 30 919 jockeys who were killed in races in this country and there was no insurance for them.
They simply couldn't afford the kind of insurance rates they needed so that they were often rejected from hospitals and they would simply end up panhandling. If they were injured too badly to keep riding. Aside from the danger there was there were the struggles with losing weight. The weights the horses carried today are somewhat higher than they were then back then at times horses would be asked to carry as little as eighty nine pounds which meant that the jockey and his saddle and tack had to weigh 89 pounds or less for the horse to run in the race. The less you weighed the more you could ride. And these these men would starve themselves. And they would they would do things to lose weight like swallowing tapeworms. They would immerse themselves in the. Back in the newer pit which fermented So it was very hot and soaked there all day. They would not drink anything to the point of some of them had hallucinations. They were so dehydrated they they beat their bodies up to
do what they did. And this this particular jockey red Pollard a when you start thinking about OK what. What would be worse than being a jockey. One of the things you might think of well I guess you could be sort of a low rank prize fighter and this guy was both. You know we've both read Pollard he is one of my favorite characters in all of sports history. He was an intellectual. He was self educated but he was an intellectual. He read the most difficult literature he lived on the stuff he carried books with him all the time he quoted Shakespeare in the jockeys room. He was abandoned at a racetrack as a boy and to make ends meet he had no money and no connections he began a prize fighting part time in Cowtown clubs out in the West and he was a bad fighter. And. He had the stuffing beaten out of him all the time. And then he would go during the day and ride race horses and he started out as not a very good
jockey at the time he came to the Seabiscuit partnership he was one of the worst jockeys in America statistically speaking. And he was tremendously accident prone. He very early in his career was struck in the head with something that horses had kicked up while riding a horse down the track and it blinded him and want to live. And that was a secret he he pretty much carried to his grave he told his family and that was all. Even his friends didn't know because he would have been banned from racing. He had no peripheral vision. And his time with Seabiscuit was punctuated by injury after injury. He he was a very accident prone very unfortunate and then you have the hardest jockey life I know of. He and you also sort of wonder and again this might go back to the maybe the tendency of of Tom Smith and Charles Howard to see potential somewhere in a place that other people would have said didn't happen. But at the time that they took on red
Pollard he would. This man was not exactly at the height of his career in fact that he was on the way down. Yes he really was he he actually the day he got in that partnership he had just walked out of a track in Ohio Sissel down park as it was called and called the Soul down. Today he the last horse he had ridden had simply stopped in the middle of the race and he most of the time didn't get any mounts at all. And he he just kept coming back to the races and he got in a car that day and went north toward the Detroit fairgrounds racetrack and was in a car accident and ended up having to hitchhike the rest of the way to the track and he was down to 27 cents and a pint half a pint of something he called Bow-Wow wine. When he walked into Thompson a Barnes and Smith had seen him before in the bush leagues and he wanted a bush league kind of rider with a lot of strings and Pollard had a prizefighter body he had a big strong
upper body and he needed that with Seabiscuit and he got the job. I'm interested in having you talk a bit more about Seabiscuit as a kind of popular culture hero and how it is people responded to him and in what way that is that popular culture status took shape. I think that a lot of it has to do with the depression. Do you think he he comes along in a period of time when America is really down and out. Most people in this country were living in abject poverty at that time and they were quite desperate for something to escape into and something that offered affirmation and this was a horse and these were people that they could identify with. They were all underdogs. They were all individuals who had come from being down and out themselves.
And those kinds of individuals were or were taken as heroes at the time. And Seabiscuit just clicked with the public and. His fame was also helped along a lot by his owner Charles Howard who was the original doctor of spin. He was obsessed with good press he would poll Seabiscuit shoes off after races and have them cast in the silver ashtrays and given to reporters. He was constantly sending the horse's itinerary out so that crowds would gather at every whistle stop from one end of the country to the other. He he would merchandise the horse to an extraordinary degree. There were Seabiscuit pinball machines and trash cans and playing cards and the ladies had and he had two lines of signature oranges and he endorsed whiskey and a dry cleaning service a hotel chain. He was everywhere you couldn't avoid Seabiscuit at the time. And that had
an awful lot to do with it too. And he was he's really quite a phenomenon. We met you mentioned earlier in the interview that Charles Howard bought Seabiscuit for $8000. How much money did he make off hours. I believe it's 60 times his purchase price in the end. It he won he won four hundred seventy thousand dollars which was a world record. At the time it's it's just an extraordinary amount of money when you're talking about what people are earning in those days. It was quite dazzling. He won basically every every precis race in America. It was a juggernaut for five years and he did it as. As we talked in the beginning about the fact that Charles Howard was one of the investors in Santa Anita. And then he had this big race that said any to handicap $200000 purse everybody wanted to win including Charles Howard. And eventually in his last
race Seabiscuit did win the handicap. Yeah and it was it was just an enormous event part of what made it made an event that really gather the whole nation around it was that the horse had been trying to win this race for four years and he just kept running up against an incredibly bad fortune every time. He lost the first running by a nose in basically the last jump after an error by Pollard. The second time he lost it after being T-boned by another horse coming out of the starting gate. And the third time he was getting ready to run it he suffered a very severe injury to one of his fore legs which necessitated his retirement at the same time Brad Pollard had his lower leg virtually sheared off when another horse rammed him into the side of a barn. The two of them essentially their careers were over and they spent a year together
in retirement on Howard's ranch walking the fields building their legs together and they they came back to take one more try at that time Seabiscuit was seven years old and that's the equivalent of an Olympic sprinter trying to compete in his late 30s or early 40s. It's it's quite extraordinary for a horse to come back at that age and they came back for one last run at this and a handicap in 1940 and finally got it. That's that's an amazing story away just when you think about what both of them had been through. About the fact as you say that they should by all rights both of them should have been done. Yeah by that point. Maybe more red Pollard than Seabiscuit. And for them to to both of them come back and for him to be able to ride the horse and the horse to win this race. You couldn't hardly imagine more of a Cinderella story. It be it's just tremendously satisfying and the I actually have put this
up on my website. The audiotape of that race is is amazing to hear because there is 80000 people at the track and there every person in the world wanted that horse to win it and when he wins it that the crowd almost everyone in the press box in their stories about the race the next day said that they had never heard cheering so loud and sustained and you could hear it on this audio tape. It's amazing. People thousands of people were weeping. They were running onto the track. People were fainting. It was it was hysteria. And then it certainly ties in with the people the way people would have been feeling at the time and just the idea of. Of a man and a horse coming back against the odds and winning something this big would. You can understand how people would have been inspired by that and would be would grab on to a story like that. Yes yes it's it's this partnership and the experiences they had it. It looks like America itself in the Depression.
It's all of these setbacks and all of this hardship and finally succeed in the end was it was very cathartic I think for the whole crowd. People were identifying with this horror to an extraordinary degree it was quite common for people to weep during his races. You don't see that with athletes very often. There's another story about the another famous race in an earlier race that Seabiscuit ran against a horse. Another famous horse named War Admiral. Yeah. Who had won the Triple Crown in 1937 and this was this race was so big it was like the Super Bowl of the day. Everybody followed it everybody listened to it I think there's a story in the book isn't there about Franklin Roosevelt actually stopping work. Saying quoting what he was doing so he could go over into and turn on the radio and listen to this race. Yes he had a room full of cabinet members he was supposed to have a meeting and the race was coming on and everybody had to stand there and wait while Roosevelt listened to this race and that was
true of the rest of America America was at a standstill that day it was November 1. Nine hundred thirty eight and forty million people were listening on the radio and I believe the American population was one hundred twenty five million or so. So it's it's it's amazing how many people are following this race. It was it was the showdown of the century in this sport war admiral was a Titan. He was a Triple Crown winner. He was Seabiscuit polar opposite blue blooded and beautiful and mercurial. He This kid was a plodding ugly gentlemanly little horse. And were Adam always a very heavy favorite and I believe and a lot of people would agree with me on this it was the greatest horse race ever run. We are a bit past the midpoint here I just want to introduce Again our guest for this part of focus 580 We're talking with Laura Hillenbrand. She's been writing about thoroughbred racing since one thousand eighty eight. She has been a contributing writer and editor of two magazines since. 89 and her work has appeared in another lot of other publications as well.
She wrote an article about Seabiscuit in 1908 that appeared in American heritage and it won the eclipse award for magazine writing which is the highest journalistic honor in thoroughbred racing. She is the author of a book and it's a good read you might want to take a look at it it's titled Seabiscuit an American legend it's published by Random House it's out now and questions are welcome three three three. W. Wilde toll free 800 1:58 W-L. We mentioned little bit earlier that fact that sea biscuits father and grandfather were were important horses his grandfather particularly Manowar was very famous racehorse and after this this last when after Seabiscuit won the Santa Anita handicap he was retired to stud. Did any of his children go on to become great horses great race horses. They did. He had one probably the best horse that came from his line was a grandson named orbit who was similar to him in
your ability and game if he won lots and lots of stakes races on the West Coast. But he was not of the same caliber. Part of it was he didn't live very long. He had a heart attack and died in 147 only 7 years after going to stud. He was only 14 when he died and part of that was Charles Howard wanted to keep him at home with him where he lived and this was an extremely remote ranch in Willits California called Richwood and the horse lived out there actually became like a cattle herding horse. Howard taught him to do this just to keep him entertained because he missed racing. But he was so remote that owners of very good Mares didn't want to put their mares on trains for this long a train trip was it was rough in those days to transport horses so not very many came up there and he ended up not being mated to the best mares in the world
and and. The result was polls that were looked like him unfortunately and ran like he did in his earlier career most of them were claimers. Yeah that's something maybe that people don't follow horseracing might not know is that in the world of thoroughbred racing there is no artificial insemination. You get to do it the old fashioned way. And so for that reason the horses have to have to come together and which is as I've read some about it is an extremely delicate business to manage. Yes it is. You can be a little dangerous there you're talking about a great big horse. And yeah and certainly it can be dangerous for the humans involved and also can be dangerous for the horses because obviously you don't want any either of the horses to be injured. Yeah in the end the process. Yeah occasionally you do get good horses get injured in the breeding shed yet it's a tricky business and they don't allow artificial insemination. It's the way it's going to be done. We have a caller here to talk with in Centralia. Let's do that line. Before.
Oh yes. Put this racehorse in relation to Secretariat winning the Belmont. That was the most amazing athletic feat I think I've ever seen. I would agree with you. And you like me to put put him in relation to to compare him to Dr. Tara. It's very hard to compare horses of different era's racetracks in those days were about two seconds or more slower than they are today so you can't compare horses on time and the you have variations in the size of the what are called Full crops the total number of horses who compete on the track so you can have a horse who competes in a really big full crop and he's basically facing a larger number of forces. And there are lots of variables that make it very difficult to compare horses of different ages. Secretariat was probably the best horse who
ever lived. He was a freaky when he was autopsied his heart weighed 22 pounds. The average equine hardass I believe seven pounds was the biggest heart ever measured he was. He was physically a freak and speed wise he was a freak and I don't know if Seabiscuit could have beaten him but I bet when you said I think it was both that said Michael Jordan. I thought of Secretary demure. Sure I did too. I did too the similar similar athletic Yes just way off the scale of anybody else. Yeah I guess I didn't see all of them but I think that was probably the only non human athletic of man in the espn top 100 or top 50 or whatever it was that they did for the the century of athletic events and that was just amazing to me. I agree with you. This is the 1973 Belmont Stakes that
Secretariat won by 31 lengths. If people aren't familiar with it I believe Bob Costas called it the the greatest the single greatest big game performance of all time. That performance was so fast that it will take it if the thoroughbred breed continues to improve at the same rate that it is improving now it will be two thousand sixty four before the rest of the breed catches up with that time. That's how fast it was it was just out of this world. But it's very difficult to compare Seabiscuit to Secretary they're very very different horses but they're both undeniably among the very very greatest because there are a secretariat book yet or are you. There was a wonderful book written by Bill nack who is currently with Sports Illustrated called it was originally called Big Red of metal stable it's now called Secretariat I highly recommend it it's a masterpiece. OK well thank you. Our thanks for the cone Let's go to Champagne next for someone else here line number one. Hello.
Hello. I have an interesting question. You you mentioned that artificial insemination is not used is that so that the parentage of the horse can be definite. I you know what I'm not too familiar with that I'm not exactly sure why I know they allow it in the standard bred breed servitor racing is so very traditional I think a lot of it comes down to tradition. But honestly I don't I'm I'm not sure of the reasons behind it. It may be because of parentage but then again you can. Horses are genetically types for parentage now so I'm really not sure. OK thanks. All right thanks for the CO. All this makes me think and I guess this is probably an obvious thing for somebody who follows racing but just how almost magical it is when you get a horse of high caliber. And if if anybody could pick them. We have a lot more but it just seems to be I don't know if it's a matter of luck if it's chance. If it
is as the case with Seabiscuit you just have to have the right combination of people the horses got a click with the rider and the trainer and that's all. Got to come together and it sounds as if that's just something that's really rare. I think it is rare there. I think it's probably true with a lot of different kinds of athletes but maybe true with horses more because they don't speak they they can't tell you look you're not training me right I'd prefer to run six for a long instead of a mile or something of that sort but yeah the talent isn't everything in Seabiscuit clearly had talent that was hidden to the eyes of everyone but Tom Smith and I am positive that had Tom Smith not seen that horse stop in front of him at Suffolk Downs that day in 1936 that we would never know the name Seabiscuit. Today when when Seabiscuit beat war admiral at Pamlico in 38 he became the horse of the year. He knew the horse was elected to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in one hundred fifty eight.
Tom Smith. Who was the trainer. He didn't get into the Racing Hall of Fame until last year. Yes. Now why did why did it take so long for for the man who was a trainer of this very famous horse who was in there first to get into the Racing Hall of Fame. That's a really good question it's something that really outraged me and number of other people that that didn't make it part of it is I think Smith was known as Silent Tom for a reason he he did not speak. He was not a politic guy he couldn't deal with people very well he was as I write in the book he was gracefully at ease with horses but with people he he was rude and difficult. And I think part of getting into the hall of fame is being well-liked by your peers and I don't think he was he was a misunderstood man. Part of it was I think an incident which occurred in 1946 long after Seabiscuit was retired he was training horses for Elizabeth Arden Graham the cosmetic queen. And
one of his horses was being prepared for a Smith was actually not even there. And a groom was seen spraying something in the horse's nostrils. A jockey club official saw it and took the little atomizer that was being used and tested it and it it turned out to have I believe 2 percent ephedrine which is a decongestant. The groom told the authorities that there were two identical. Atom misers in the office he merely chosen the wrong one. Any drugs at all were illegal in racing at the time. Ephedrine is not a performance enhancing drug but it didn't matter if the horse had been sprayed with as he did test negative but he had still been seen being sprayed with it and as a horse's trainer Smith who was legally responsible for anything his groom did and he was suspended for a full year and it caused a lot of outrage in the sport that he was suspended but the rules were the rules and he wasn't. I think that became a black mark on his record that he couldn't live down
and he never did live it down until when a journalist named Jay hover the last year finally lobbied and got him into the Hall of Fame. We have another caller here this is. Follow Lie number two. Hello. Artificial insemination is very effective in horses but to maintain the high incomes and retain control matings only natural mating are permitted in the third bred Association. Well that's good to know. In addition though supplementary drippings from the stallion and from the mares but Jenna can be caught and infuse back into the mare but both the mare in the stand and have me present simultaneously when that is done. Interesting. All right well thanks for giving us the additional information. One of the things that I did I was curious about is it just sort of touches on the. Saying that you were talking about the incident
involving the ephedrine getting sprayed in the horse's nose we go back to the time when Seabiscuit was running before World War 2. What were their concerns about various kinds of drugs or substances or what things that could be given to a horse that would improve the horse's performance and how at that time what sort of technologies did they have to try to detect that. I am not sure if they were if they conducted drug tests. Yeah I think it was right at the beginning of it if they were conducting them today. Horses are drug tested to a remarkable degree they they are tested and tested and tested on every race in America horses are tested for drugs now. But then I'm not sure if there was racing had it had sort of a PR problem at the time because it had just emerged from an era of a great deal of corruption which had been started by bookmakers in the
early part of the century wagering was done entirely through bookmakers and they had a pretty strong incentive to fix races and that's what happened at the turn of the century lots of races were fixed and the sport was actually banned in most of the country in the reform movement in the early part of the century until the depression when the states desperately needed revenue and tracks offered them a cut of wagers in exchange for being allowed to race and that's how racing was reborn in the 30s and it was reborn queen. You know there were I suppose there had always been a certain level of corruption but it was for the most part gotten rid of at that point. But I'm really not sure if forces were drug tested yet. I never came across anything about Seabiscuit being drug tested or any other horse of that era. We were getting down last couple minutes and we have a couple of callers will try to get at least one if not both. Champagne wine wine.
Hello hello yes I would like to just want to back a comment. Rather it's true of the experience of Tom. I think my father fit that pattern. He was a cowboy as a young guy on the Cimarron River and now southeastern Colorado and on the local apparel and those days the Cowboys tended to have bred horse around. My father was one of those who had a thoroughbred horse who gave to his his his his wife to be and I was sent for his second marriage president present. But to make a short long story short my father did not know anything about breeding and that sort of thing but he was he had. An eye for a horse and sound to me like I was a Tom Smith pattern that he he found he saw a horse he was racing he went into racing when he went broke in the cattle business and he raced in the small tracks in Nebraska Wyoming Montana where he had permits for racing. He was racing a horse he was
racing an ox Arbonne track and alcohol I'm sorry. And he saw a horse there that was a good looking bay horse that raced he spread Irad wide turns and didn't do anything in his racing by the way four at a 600 dollar claiming race. My dad saw that horse and he ultimately raced again and he was so queer the fact that the horse was shin bucking at six years old. Magine that shine box usually occur around too and so my dad claimed the horse for $600. He got the horse he laid him up he took care of his shin buck caught him right in Iran and Syria going home we were living in Arizona. He stopped off and raised an allowance race in Albuquerque New Mexico in the state fair and he won a race by about six links. He later came on and he raced and began the race and all the allowance races at that time Phoenix sportsman's Park and those small tracks
and ultimately then when the horse was winning and setting records. Price kept going up so I Dad sold the horse for a small amount of money and those for the big money in those days but small wanted a trainer left him on or cut him continue. So I raced them and took him down to him want to at the end if you can want to handicap and that race he ran and he unfortunately he ran he was making his move his great horse from behind and he was making a big move in the stretch and he broke down with a pop me so safe they took him. That took him back on the phone or let him take him and take care of him brought him back. Later when I was a graduate student at UCLA he raced them at that time he was probably 7 or 8 years old. He raced in a $10000 claiming that he was photo finish it was beaten by a photo finish on a four horse finish it sat on either. Wow I thought I was just I just was so taken by your story. You know that's wonderful those old cowboys really know their horses and we're going to have to stop
- Focus 580
- Seabiscuit: An American Legend
- Producing Organization
- WILL Illinois Public Media
- Contributing Organization
- WILL Illinois Public Media (Urbana, Illinois)
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- with Laura Hillenbrand, contributing writer/editor. Equus Magazine
- Broadcast Date
- Talk Show
- Sports; community; animals
- Media type
Producer: Brighton, Jack
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-06c5c17056a (unknown)
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-65f2f2aac61 (unknown)
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- Chicago: “Focus 580; Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” 2001-03-13, WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 23, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-16-707wm1415n.
- MLA: “Focus 580; Seabiscuit: An American Legend.” 2001-03-13. WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 23, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-16-707wm1415n>.
- APA: Focus 580; Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Boston, MA: WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-16-707wm1415n