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Monday, October 31, 2005

Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral, November 1, 1938


We revisit 1938 again this evening; this time, we discuss another event that excited, in a positive way, the American public. The event was the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral in a race called The Pimlico Special. It was, without a doubt, one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century.

Seabiscuit was raised on Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. He was a small horse to be from such a good bloodline and his early trainers considered him lazy. After his first racing season yielded poor results, Seabiscuit received almost no training. During his second season, he raced 35 times, an almost unhealthy pace. He did win five races that season, but it was not enough to change his reputation. He was sold before the next season for $8000US to Charles Howard.

With the help of quiet trainer Tom Smith and 5’7” jockey Red Pollard, Seabiscuit was, by his fifth birthday in 1938, one of most famous racehorses in history. Even though he was Kentucky-born, he had spent most of his life racing on the West Coast. The horse owners on the East Coast of the United States looked down their noses at western horseracing, considering it a sport for amateurs. Even though Seasbiscuit had run on Eastern tracks, he garnered very little respect there. The eastern establishment, as it were, held forth for War Admiral, a Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year. He was a huge horse compared to Seabiscuit and his temperament was everything the smaller horses’ wasn’t. The stage was set to determine which horse was the finest in the nation.

Several match races (that is, a race between just two horses) were planned between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, but one or other always scratched. The two would finally go head-to-head on November 1, 1938 in a race called the Pimlico Special at the Pimlico track in Baltimore, Maryland. The newspapers called the one and 3/16 mile race the “Match of the Century”. 40,000 people jammed into the racetrack while more than 40 million people listened on the radio; keep in mind that the population of the US then was one-half what it is today.

Unfortunately, Red Pollard was not there to race Seabiscuit in the race. He was in the hospital recovering from a severe injury involving a fall from another horse. The Biscuit would be raced by George Woolf, a friend of Pollard and a highly successful jockey. The race was run from a standing start instead of a gate, with a bell announcing the start. As most of you know and the rest of you may have surmised, Seabiscuit beat War Admiral by four lengths. He was the greatest racehorse in the nation.

Seabiscuit would continue to race, even recovering from a serious injury in 1939 in time to win the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940. He retired from racing that spring and sired 108 foals before his death in 1947. War Admiral won 21 of his 26 starts and lived until 1959.

Believe it or not, Seabiscuit and War Admiral were related. War Admiral’s half brother, Hard Tack, was Seabiscuit’s father. War Admiral was the son of the great Man ‘O War; Seabiscuit was his grandson.

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