Foaled in Lexington Kentucky, Seabiscuit was first introduced to the world in 1933. His sire was Hard Tack and his grandfather was Man o’ War. His mare was Swing On. He was given the name from a reference to his father’s name, as hardtack is a sea biscuit, or cracker, that was eaten by sailors at the time.
He grew up during the Great Depression, a thoroughbred that was knobby-kneed and undersized. During his younger years, he was prone to long sleeping sessions. He would also feed longer than other horses. Many believed that he was too lazy of a horse to become a racing horse. Over his lifetime, however, he would prove his critics wrong, becoming the US horse of the year in 1938 and one of the industry’s most unlikely champions.
Here are some more interesting Seabiscuit horse facts to help you get to know this famous horse a little bit better.
#1. Seabiscuit lost all of his initial races.
Seabiscuit was looked over in favor of Omaha by Wheatley Stables and trainer James Fitzsimmons. They saw some potential in the horse, but felt like he wasn’t really up to a full slate of championship training. This meant racing a heavy schedule of small races. Seabiscuit would rack up a record of 0-17 to begin his career, often finishing near the back of the field. It would lead to jokes about his ability to perform.
#2. By the time he was two, he had won five races and finished in second 7 times.
As a two-year-old horse, Seabiscuit already had 35 races under his belt. That was a heavy racing schedule, even during this period of time. But after losing his first 17 races, he began to show his true potential. He set a new track record during a race at Narragansett Park and had a top 2 finish in three claiming races, where someone could have purchased him for $2,500. No one took the gamble.
#3. Seabiscuit’s last two victories as a 2-year-old were minor stakes races.
His stable and trainer might have considered him to be reaching his full racing potential, but Seabiscuit was hardly a poorly performing horse in the initial stages of his career. The last two victories he earned as a 2-year-old were minor stakes races, giving him some additional attention on the racing circuit and the industry itself.
#4. Seabiscuit was purchased for $8,000 in 1936.
In his first 12 races as a 3-year-old, Seabiscuit encountered a similar pattern to winning and losing. He won 4 of his racing, but also averaged 3 different races per month at the time. One of the races where Seabiscuit competed was an allowance race in June of 1936. Tom Smith first spotted Seabiscuit in that race and it offered Charles Howard an opportunity to purchase him. The transaction would be completed in August of that year.
#5. A different training method changed everything for Seabiscuit.
Tom Smith would be assigned as the new trainer for Seabiscuit and his methods helped to encourage the athleticism of the horse. Pairing him with a jockey that was experienced with Mexican and Western racing, Seabiscuit would win several of his final races in 1936, including the $7,300 Scarsdale Handicap in Yonkers.
#6. At one stretch in 1937, Seabiscuit went 5-for-5 in stakes racing.
Between late June and early August, Seabiscuit ran a series of grueling stakes races and wound up winning them all. Each victory occurred under increasing handicap weights. In total, Seabiscuit won 11 of the 15 races he entered in 1937 and wound up being the leading money winner in the United States despite War Admiral winning the Triple Crown that season.
#7. Seabiscuit disliked heavy ground.
Seabiscuit was a finicky racer. He really didn’t like heavy ground, especially with the weight that he carried. He was forced to race on a heavy track in 1936 and struggled to finish third in that race. In 1937-1938, Seabiscuit was scratched from major races that were deemed to be too heavy for him, which prevented a much anticipated race between War Admiral and him from occurring for quite some time.
#8. Pimlico Race Course held the Match of the Century.
November 1, 1938 would finally bring War Admiral and Seabiscuit together. Trains came in from all over the United States, with an unprecedented 40,000 people attending the race at the time. The radio audience for this race was estimated to be 40 million people. War Admiral was given 1-4 odds by most bookmakers and was a nearly unanimous pick to win. The distance was 1.91 kilometers and despite War Admiral setting a personal best in that distance, Seabiscuit would end up winning the race by 4 lengths. This led to him being named the Horse of the Year and being the #1 newsmaker in the country.
#9. A 1939 race brought about a devastating injury.
During a race in 1939, Seabiscuit managed to rupture the suspensory ligament in his front left leg. It was an injury which required extensive rehabilitation for the horse, including the need to relearn how to walk. Red Pollard, who had been Seabiscuit’s jockey for most races after Howard’s purchase of the horse, had also broken his leg around the same time. A common joke was that between jockey and horse, they had “four good legs” in which to race.
#10. In 1940, Seabiscuit would finally win the one race that eluded him.
The Santa Anita handicap, a race worth $125,000 and called “the Hundred Grander,” has been the nemesis of Seabiscuit. He’d come close to winning it in the past, but never crossed in first. After losing his first comeback race after the injury, it seemed like 1940 would be a repeat of the past. After being blocked from the start and trapped in third near the end of the race, Pollard brought Seabiscuit between the leaders and surged into the leading, winning by a length and a half over his stablemate Kayak II. The win was so thrilling for the onlookers that they stormed the track, making it impossible for anyone to reach the winner’s enclosure.
#11. On April 10, 1940, Seabiscuit would end up retiring.
At the time of his retirement, the “lazy” horse that was not expected to perform would be horse racing’s all-time leading money winner. He would be put out to stud for the remainder of his life, siring a total of 108 foals. His continuing legacy, however, has not been spectacular. Only Sea Sovereign and Sea Swallow have seen moderate levels of racing success as his offspring.
#12. More than 50,000 people would visit Seabiscuit during retirement.
Seabiscuit was a popular tourist attraction at Ridgewood Ranch, where he retired. His popularity continues to this day, with several books and movies written about his story. The movie Seabiscuit in 2003 was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Two other films, including one starring Shirley Temple, were also made to tell the story of this horse.
#13. Seabiscuit was voted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1958.
In 1999, the Top 100 racehorses in the United States throughout the 20th century were ranked. Seabiscuit was ranked 25th. War Admiral, the horse that Seabiscuit defeated by 4 lengths, was ranked 13th. Man o’ War, Seabiscuit’s grandfather, was ranked #1. It should be noted that War Admiral was also a sire of Man o’ War, which would make him an “uncle” to Seabiscuit.
#14. Seabiscuit finished with a career record of 33 wins in 89 starts.
He would also finish with 15 seconds and 13 thirds. His total career earnings were $437,730, punctuated with the win at the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940 as his last race. For a horse that was shopped around in claiming races early in his career and the subject of stable jokes for his 0-17 start, Seabiscuit finished his career in a completely dominant way – even though he sometimes lost to unknown horses at the time.
#15. Seabiscuit died at a very young age.
Many horses today live well into their 20s and 30s, even racing thoroughbreds. Seabiscuit, however, died just 6 days of his 14th birthday. Although the cause of death is not known, it is believed that he suffered a heart attack in May of 1947. He was buried at Willits Ranch in California. Visitors can still visit the ranch. Walking tours are available to see his stall, the uniform his jockey wore, and other racing memorabilia. A statute was installed at the location in 2007 to commemorate his accomplishment.
These Seabiscuit horse facts show that great champions can come from unexpected places. Being the underdog is just one reason why this thoroughbred was able to make such a long-lasting impression on the American public. His story will continue to be told, proving that you can start 0-17 and still be voted into the Hall of Fame.