Jockey’s Up!!!

Tomorrow is the Preakness and even if you don’t like horse racing, it’s still a must for you to watch. If the filly wins it will be the first time for a girl since 1924. She is the betting odds favorite by a wide margin.  I’m bringing the men in early so we can watch…that is unless we have an emergency of some sort.

I guess I’m psysic.  If you will recall when it was announced that Calvin Borel was getting off Mine That Bird and riding Rachel Alexandra I suggest they should use Mike Smith. Well, I saw yesterday they had been reading my blog (smile).   Mike Smith is going to ride the Derby winner.  In truth it was just a lucky guess.

Not many people these days are interested in horse racing. There was a time horse racing was the biggest sport in the country.  During the Great Depression the popularity of horse racing was at an all time high. 30,000 to 40,000 attended races daily. They ran horses seven days a week and there were always people standing in line to bet. Troubled people, desperate to hit a long shot. Horse racing news dominated the front pages of the nation’s newspapers, much like the San Antonio Express covers the Spurs. The NFL was playing to 2,500 people and had no media coverage.

Out of that era one horse has captured my heart. I’m a big Seabiscuit fan. His career didn’t start well. As a two year old he won few races, but they ran him35 times during racing season. Today many top race horses don’t run 35 times in their lifetime.  He came from amazing blood stock. His grandfather was Man-O-War and his father Hard Tack. First of all he ran awkwardly and then he was only about 15 hands tall.  Cantankerous would describe his personality to a tee.  His attitude caused him to be maltreated and under appreciated.

“Silent” Tom Brown, an odd ball trainer spotted Seabiscuit in a  race in which the purse was $50.  The little Bay lost, but Brown thought he saw something others didn’t and asked the owner of the stable he worked for, Charles Howard to buy Seabiscuit for $8,000.  They called Tom Brown “Silent”  because he spoke to no one other than his horses.  He had very little success as a trainer, mostly due to the really bad horses he was asked to train.

Then enters Red Pollard.  Red’s family died when he was 14 and he became a hobo, working odd jobs and grabbing a mount from time to time.  He learned to fight and fought professionally to help keep food to eat.  At 5′-6″ he was too tall to be a good jockey and weight was always an issue. He was hanging around a small race track and went from barn to barn asking for a ride. The last stable he visited was manned by “Silent” Tom Brown and the horse in that barn had one big attitude.  He asked Tom for a ride and before “Silent” could respond, Red walked to the stall gate and slipped a sugar cube from his pocket. Seabiscuit reached over and nuzzled Red’s shoulder. That caught Tom’s eye as this was the first sign of affection the horse had shown toward anyone.  He fully expected Red to get bitten. Tom said three words, “He is yours.”

Red and the little bay were love at first sight. For the first time in his career Seabiscuit began to run. For the first time in his career Red had a great horse under him. It was just a matter of them getting to stay together long enough to start winning. Red slept in the stables and mucked stables to earn enough to eat. They began to win and the care for the little bay increased. Special hay was brought in from northern Calfiornia and his diet was regimented to fit his needs.

Seabiscuit did have an odd trait. He would lay down and sleep like a dog. Horses don’t usually stay down long, because after awhile they have trouble breathing.  Not this little horse. “Silent” Tom sent the word out not to wake Seabiscuit if he was sleeping and he was always asleep.

Charles Howard, the owner, was also an odd piece in the puzzle. He started out as a boy repairing bikes and then opened his own bike shop. From bikes he started building cars. If my memory is correct he invented the Tucker and took on the big boys of Detroit.  Howard had money and knew promotion.

When Tom told him the little bay had run the second fasted time ever recorded with a warm up jockey they decided it was time to spring their secret weapon onto the horse world. With Red on his back Seabiscuit would give the most expensive race a try. The $100,000 Santa Anita.  Out of the gate the small horse was jammed up. He couldn’t force his way through the crowded field of 19 horses. Then on the back stretch he saw a small opening and Red took a chance. By then the lead horses had a 25 length gap. Like in the movies he began to cut one horse down and then next and next. As they turned for home Seabiscuit was still a dozen lengths behind. Red urged him on and he began to cut the gap. They crossed the finish line in a photo finish. When the photo was developed it showed the other horse had won by 2″.   They didn’t win, but the team knew Seabiscuit had something special.  That year they won 11 races, came in 2nd in 6 and 3rd in 1.

Red was asked by a friend if he would ride his two year old. Never one to turn a friend down Red took the mount. About halfway into the race the two year old fell and rolled over Red. Red, severely injured, clung for life and many said he would never ride again. He asked “Silent” Tom to let George Woolf ride Seabiscuit in the second $100,000 Santa Anita, while he was in the hospital.  Once more the little bay got boxed in and had to swing wide to get back into the race. By the time he got around all the other horses he didn’t have enough time to close the gap. He made a valiant effort only to be beat by a nose.  When the photos were developed, they showed he lost by less than 6″.

Red healed and was ready to go at it again.  This time the stakes were larger. Howard challenged the wealthy owner of War Admiral to a match race. The rich guy from the East’s horse had won the Triple Crown and didn’t want to lower his standards to run such and unknown horse. So Howard, being the promoter he was, started out from California to the East Coast offering to run Seabiscuit against any and all. The media went nuts. Front page on every paper was a Seabisuit story. People came out in droves to meet the train. He because a symbol of hope for the down trodden people during the great depression.

Finally War Admiral’s owner had no choice. Race War Admiral against Seabiscuit or be deamed a coward.  The race was set. The track was crammed full with 40,000 and another 20,000 on the outside on telephone poles or anywhere they might get a glimpse of he race. By then people owned radios and several thousand cars had radios.  Half of the American population listened to the race.

Before the race poor Red Pollard was asked by another friend to work his green horse. The horse spooked, broke through the railing and crashed into a barn, crushing Red’s leg. He would not get to ride the match race. Again he asked George Woolf be allowed to take his place. Woolf was the top jockey in the country. He rode a lot less horses but was still the top money winner. He only rode the very top horses. He told Red, if I win I’ll split the purse with you 50-50.  He asked Red for a tip on how to run the race.  Red told him, “Get out fast and take the lead. Then on the quarter turn pull him back and let War Admiral pass him. This will make him angry and from there on just enjoy the ride. He will see the look in War Admiral’s eye and meet the challenge.”

Wolf followed instructions and when they turned toward home, Seabiscuit took over, winning by 6 lengths. He was voted Horse of the Year for 1938.

The following year Seabiscuit injured his leg and thought was given about putting him down. Red recovered, but was told to never ride again. One bump could make him a cripple for life.  While in a Boston hospital his nurse was the daughter of a very wealthy family. She fell in love with Red and over her family’s objections married him. Poor Red had no home to take her to so he asked the Howards if they could live in their guest house.

Back in the barn he got with the crippled little bay horse with the big heart. Red slipped him out of the stable and started taking him for short walks. Then the walks got longer and longer. Finally they were walking five miles a day. Red healed and so did the little bay.  Red told “Silent” Tom Seabiscuit was ready for the third $100,000 Santa Anita. Tom agreed but didn’t want Red to ride, for fear of getting him hurt. A friend of Charles Howard told him, “It would be better for him to be a cripple for life than for you to take this away from him.”

Red rode and Seabiscuit did what he did best.  He ran away with the $100,000 purse by a large margin, making him the biggest money winner of all time. He sired 50 colts and when he died Charles Howard buried him under a big oak tree somewhere on his California ranch.

Please forgive me for not taking politics. I’m ready for a break and trust me folks, the mess will still be there tomorrow.

That is it for the night, Will Cooper <><


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