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. Copyright 2001 BookPage Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2001 January #1
The former editor of Equus magazine retells the riveting story of an unlikely racehorse that became an American obsession during the Depression.Like all heroes of an epic, Seabiscuit had to endure setbacks, dispel doubts about his abilities, and contend with formidable rivals. Hillenbrand deftly mixes arcane horse lore with a narrative as compelling as any adventure yarn as she introduces first the men who would make Seabiscuit great and then the horse himself. Racing was a popular, often unregulated sport in the 1930s, and wealthy men like Bing Crosby and his friend Charles Howard, who became Seabiscuit's owner, fielded strings of horses all over the country. Howard, a sucker for lost causes, took on as his trainer Tom Smith, a taciturn westerner down on his luck who studied horses for days until he took their measure. Both men were well suited to invest emotionally and financially in Seabiscuit, as were the two jockeys who would be associated with him, Red Pollard and George Woolf. Howard first saw Seabiscuit racing in 1936. The colt was a descendant of the famous Man o' War, but his body was stunted, his legs stubby, and he walked with an odd gait. Smith believed he had potential, however, so Howard bought him and took him back to California. There Smith patiently worked on Seabiscuit's strengths, corrected his weaknesses, and encouraged his ability to run faster than any other horse. When Smith thought he was ready, Howard began racing the colt. Seabiscuit broke numerous track records, despite accidents, injuries, and even foul play. His fame was secured with a 1938 race against his rival, War Admiral; their contest divided the country into two camps and garnered more media coverage than President Roosevelt, who himself was so riveted by the race that he kept advisers waiting while he listened to the broadcast.A great ride. Copyright Kirkus 2001 Kirkus/BPI Communications All right reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2000 November #1
Quick, name the hero who received more news coverage in 1938 than FDR, Hitler, or Mussolini. It's Seabiscuit, a Thoroughbred who went from last place to racing legend. Based on the author's award-winning magazine story for American Heritage. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2001 April #1
A veteran thoroughbred-racing writer whose stories have appeared in American Heritage, Talk, and other magazines, Hillenbrand here takes readers on a thrilling ride through 341 pages on the back of champion thoroughbred Seabiscuit. This is a Cinderella story in which four creatures, united for a brief period of time (1936-47), spark the imagination of an entire country. Hillenbrand combines the horse's biography with a social history of 1930s and 1940s America and incisive portraits of the team around Seabiscuit. Charlie Howard, a car dealer, bought the crooked-legged, scruffy little horse; Tom Smith, a man who rarely spoke to people but who communicated perfectly with horses, became its trainer; and Red Pollard, a half-blind jockey, rode Seabiscuit to fame. Hillenbrand's extensive research compares favorably with that of Alexander MacKay-Smith's in Speed and the Thoroughbred (Derrydale, 2000). This story of trust, optimism, and perseverance in overcoming obstacles will appeal to many readers. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/00.] Patsy E. Gray, Huntsville P.L., AL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2001 January #1
HGifted sportswriter Hillenbrand unearths the rarefied world of thoroughbred horse racing in this captivating account of one of the sport's legends. Though no longer a household name, Seabiscuit enjoyed great celebrity during the 1930s and 1940s, drawing record crowds to his races around the country. Not an overtly impressive physical specimen "His stubby legs were a study in unsound construction, with huge, squarish, asymmetrical `baseball glove' knees that didn't quite straighten all the way" the horse seemed to transcend his physicality as he won race after race. Hillenbrand, a contributor to Equus magazine, profiles the major players in Seabiscuit's fantastic and improbable career. In simple, elegant prose, she recounts how Charles Howard, a pioneer in automobile sales and Seabiscuit's eventual owner, became involved with horse racing, starting as a hobbyist and growing into a fanatic. She introduces esoteric recluse Tom Smith (Seabiscuit's trainer) and jockey Red Pollard, a down-on-his-luck rider whose specialty was taming unruly horses. In 1936, Howard united Smith, Pollard and "The Biscuit," whose performance had been spotty and the horse's star career began. Smith, who recognized Seabiscuit's potential, felt an immediate rapport with him and eased him into shape. Once Seabiscuit started breaking records and outrunning lead horses, reporters thronged the Howard barn day and night. Smith's secret workouts became legendary and only heightened Seabiscuit's mystique. Hillenbrand deftly blends the story with explanations of the sport and its culture, including vivid descriptions of the Tijuana horse-racing scene in all its debauchery. She roots her narrative of the horse's breathtaking career and the wild devotion of his fans in its socioeconomic context: Seabiscuit embodied the underdog myth for a nation recovering from dire economic straits. (Mar.) Forecast: Despite the shrinking horse racing audience and the publishing adage that books on horse racing don't sell this book has the potential to do well, even outside the realm of the racing community, due to a large first printing and forthcoming Universal Studios movie. A stylish cover will attract both baby boomers and young readers, tapping into the sexiness and allure of the "Sport of Kings." Hillenbrand's glamorous photo on the book jacket won't hurt her chances, and Seabiscuit should sell at a galloping pace. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2001 November
Adult/High School-This well-written and compelling book celebrates the life of a racehorse that just happened to be a descendant of Man O' War. It is a story of a huge talent that almost went unrecognized until the right people came along. According to descriptions, Seabiscuit was a runt, with stubby legs, an odd walk, and a lazy nature. However, he became so popular that he drew more news coverage than President Roosevelt, Hitler, or Mussolini. The atmosphere surrounding his historic match with War Admiral was so intense that FDR kept advisors waiting as he listened with the rest of the country to hear the outcome. Hillenbrand also tells the stories of owner Charles Howard, trainer Tom Smith, and jockey Red Pollard and the part each man played in the recognition and development of a racing legend. But the book is much more. Seabiscuit is a story of the times and it is a story of the hard and dangerous life of a jockey. Even readers with no interest in the sport will be hooked with the opening sentence of the book's preface. Hillenbrand does a wonderful job in bringing an unlikely winner to life.-Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.