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- More About Seabiscuit by Laura HillenbrandOverviewSeabiscuit: An American Legend is the ultimate underdog story. Seabiscuit was an unlikely champion; his legs were crooked; he had a sad little tail; and he was precisely the color of mud. For two years, he floundered at the lowest level of racing, misunderstood and mishandled, as slow as growing grass, before his dormant talent was discovered by three men. One was Tom Smith, known as "The Lone Plainsman," a virtually mute mustang breaker who had come from the vanishing frontier, bearing the secrets of horses. One was Red Pollard, a half-blind failed prizefighter and failing jockey who had been living in a horse stall since being abandoned at a makeshift racetrack as a boy. The third was Charles Howard, a former bicycle repairman who made a fortune by introducing the automobile to the American West. Bought for a bargain-basement price by Howard and rehabilitated by Smith and Pollard, Seabiscuit overcame a phenomenal run of bad fortune to become one of the most spectacular, dominant and charismatic performers in sports history. Competing in the cruelest years of the Depression, the rags-to-riches horse emerged as an American cultural icon, drawing an immense and fanatical following, inspiring an avalanche of merchandising, and establishing himself as the single biggest newsmaker of 1938.
"A first-rate piece of storytelling, leaving us not only with a vivid portrait of a horse but with a fascinating slice of American history as well." --The New York Times
"A remarkable story, and Hillenbrand tells it in a fashion that is often poetic." --The Washington Post
"A great story beautifully told, and that's all one can ask of any book." --Baltimore Sun
"Terrific...Illuminating a forgotten piece of American history." --USA Today
"Enthralling...an irresistible story...a breathtaking tale of challenge, heartbreak and triumph." --Boston Herald
"A charmer. A celebratory tale about an unlikely champion, a creature of personality and persistence." --Chicago Tribune Book Review
In 1938, a single, legendary figure stole the national spotlight from FDR, Hitler and Mussolini. The figure in question was not human. He was a thoroughbred racehorse named Seabiscuit. The short, bandy-legged horse who - against all odds - showed the speed, strength and heart necessary to succeed in the sport of kings, Seabiscuit attracted massive crowds to his races throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Laura Hillenbrand's fascinating and well-researched book Seabiscuit: An American Legend tells the story of this underdog, giving an old legend new life.
While providing an authoritative account of the horse's storied career, Hillenbrand focuses on the men and women who helped Seabiscuit become a champion. She writes about Red Pollard, dubbed "The Cougar," the jockey who repeatedly piloted Seabiscuit to victory, even riding races on a previously shattered leg. George Woolf, whose statue stands near Seabiscuit's at the Santa Anita racetrack, and who rode the horse when Pollard's injuries prevented him, also comes to life here. Woolf was a notoriously flamboyant figure around the racetrack, and Hillenbrand includes the most beguiling stories about his life.
As horses go, Seabiscuit was as idiosyncratic as they come, with an appetite and a predisposition for sleep that were as legendary as his unlikely short-legged build. Hillenbrand tells of him resting on his side in a train car and whinnying for food when his trainer put him on a diet. Yet even some of his early keepers could feel the promise in him; as Hillenbrand reports, one saw "something in Seabiscuit's demeanor - perhaps a conspicuous lack of sweating in his workouts, perhaps a gleam in the horse's eye that hinted at devious intelligence."
The knowledge of horses Hillenbrand amassed as a writer for Equus magazine shows in her descriptions of Seabiscuit's injuries and gaits. Her panoramic descriptions of the characters that surrounded the racehorse and her ability to bring a past era vividly to life make this narrative succeed. Describing Seabiscuit's loss to Stagehand in a photo finish, Hillenbrand writes about how horse and owner handled the news: "Howard looked at Seabiscuit. The horse's head was high and light played in his eyes. He didn't know he had lost. Howard felt confidence swell in him again.
" 'We'll try again,' he said. 'Next time we'll win it.' "
Eliza R.L. McGraw lives and writes in Cabin John, Maryland.