Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

My brother-in-law, Chris Wade has created another book for children.  This second in his series of creation is about winged creatures.  Here is a sample:

As you can see Chris included a little green buddy of mine.  For more information you can go to Amazon.  You can visit Chris' website here.

Here is the Bach Partita for Flute BWV 1013 performed by Jean-Pierre Rampal.
Seabiscuit: An American LegendSeabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book surprised me by being a very interesting account of a racehorse's life.

It surprised me because I am not particularly interested in race horsing, but Laura Hillenbrand deftly weaves human and animal lives together, I found myself looking forward to coming back to the book and finishing it easily because each chapter contained such fascinating information about all the players involved.

The first chapter focuses on the man who financially backed the horse. Charles Howard came to San Francisco from the East where he had a bicycle shop, but he was one of those people who was ambitious and knew how to make money. I am impressed with those kinds of people. They combine the ability to crunch numbers with risk taking and are will to lose a lot of money as they slowly but surely ascend towards greater and greater gains.

Howard became one of the most successful Buick salesmen of all time. He soon found something else to invest in: horses. Pretty soon, he was making good money at the race tracks. Eventually he bought for a song an unimpressive looking, smallish, crooked legged horse with a stubborn personality. His name was Seabiscuit.

Seabiscuit was under the training of the legendary "Sonny" Jim Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons spent a lot of time working with Seabiscuit but eventually gave up, considering the horse too lazy and too onery. When Howard bought him, he handed him over to his trainer, Tom Smith.

The second chapter tells us about Smith and his unorthodox training methods. Smith had been a mustang breaker and trainer. As the frontier vanished he turned to other work. He eventually found it training Thoroughbreds for Charles Howard. Smith believed in Seabiscuit and with patience and particular racing workouts, he worked the lazy out of Seabiscuit.

Smith paired Seabiscuit with Red Pollard, a jockey from Canada and the third chapter gives us a graphic and grueling description of life as a horse jockey. During the depression most jockeys were young boys who had run away from home or simply left because they were one of too many mouths to feed.

No one babied these kids. They starved themselves to stay underweight, they worked for pittance and were often seriously injured and barely received medical treatment and then only after all the races were run because no one could afford to lose time transporting someone to the hospital between races.

Many jockeys scrambled back to the race from the hospital, regardless of their condition because if they missed one of their races they'd get fired.

It makes you glad that eventually laws were passed to prevent this type of exploitation.

Yet at the same time, these half-starved underpaid kids still somehow managed to scrounge up money for alcohol and prostitutes, rather proving the adage no one got poor because they were good with money.

The rest of the book describes Seabiscuit's training under Smith and riding under Red and also another jockey named Woolf and the different races they ran.

This is a credit to Hillenbrand's superior writing skills that she can turn a race horse into a riveting experience. Seabiscuit won some, lost some, but won more and more and became the Depression era favorite. Hundreds of thousands of people packed the stadiums to see him run.

The climax came when he ran against War Admiral.

War Admiral was the sire of the infamous Man o' War who terrorized race tracks about twenty years earlier. Sea Biscuit was a grand sire, his parents being Hard Tack and Swing On, but his grandsire was Man O' War. This perhaps diluted some of the hellion spirit he might have inherited from Man o' War because he had none of the demonic temperament his grand sire was known and feared for. War Admiral, however, being a direct sire, very definitely inherited it. Apparently the hardest part of the race was getting him to walk to the starting gate without trying to trample the groomsmen.

It took a lot of obstacles, injuries, weather, but mostly the enigmatic stubbornness of War Admiral's owner, Samuel Riddle who perhaps thought it beneath his horse to run a "mere Western winner".

Finally, the race did take place and reading it was suspenseful. Both horses broke records but Seabiscuit finally broke out in the lead and won by at least one horse length. When I came to the end I cried a little and then felt foolish but I couldn't help it.

Seabiscuit went on to run more races and did well, but Smith finally retired him to the same ranch he retired to. They died within a couple of years of each other. Seabiscuit was only fourteen which is rather young for a horse, but he ran a long, hard road.

Before that he sired hundreds of "little Biscuits" most of unimpressive form but a few racers. War Admiral who was retired shortly after his race with Sea Biscuit had more success, siring forty stakes winners.

Hillenbrand is exhaustive in her research and compelling in her prose. Whether you're interested in race horses or not you will probably find her writing enjoyable.

Reading this book has inspired me to read others like it. Perhaps I need to read about the race from War Admiral's perspective.

View all my reviews

If you'd like to watch Seabiscuits famous race with War Admiral click here.


  1. I love the illustrations in your brother-in-laws book, what a talented man!
    I read Seabiscuit a few years ago, and I know I enjoyed it at the time but my memory of the story is hazy now. It must be time to read it again. :)

    1. Hi Barbara! I'm glad you like Chris' book. Hopefully he'll get enough reviews to bump it up on Amazon's list.

      Now that I read Seabiscuit I would like to read about other racehorses.

  2. Sharon, thank you for another great review of my book.

    Seabiscuit sounds like an interesting read. I did not know how bad the jockeys were treated...

    1. You're welcome, Chris. I look forward to your next book.

      I think laws are now in place to prevent the abuse of disc jockeys and hopefully also the horses.

  3. What a wonderful review of Seabiscuit (and thanks for the sneak preview of the children's book). I've filed your Rx away in my Swiss-cheese mind for future selections at the library and bookstore. Thanks. All the best from someone who ought to read more children's books. Joy!

    1. Hi RT I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I'm glad I can repay the favor because I get a lot of ideas from books at your blog!

  4. I am a thoroughbred racing fan, and I love the true story of Seabiscuit and Hillenbrand's telling of it. She is a versatile writer...also the author of WWII story Unbroken. She also wrote an excellent article back in 2001....that last line of the article is perfect and proven true 14 years later. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/09/opinion/waiting-for-the-next-secretariat.html

    1. Hi Joseph. That's interesting that you're into racing. I know so little about it. Do you go to races?

      I have also read Unbroken and reviewed it. It is still my most popular post. Thanks for the link. I'll look it up.

    2. I don't make it to live racing as often as I'd like...but yes, I do go. I'm a pretty fair handicapper. My best racing memory was on TV, but I remember vividly watching Secretariat destroy the field in the 73 Belmont...and I mean DESTROY! In fact, that's when I was hooked...only a lad, but yeah.

    3. Joseph, that's so interesting. I watched Seabiscuit on youtube only because I read the bio. I did not know I could become so attached to a horse.

  5. Love the look of Chris's new book! I've seen Seabiscuit mentioned on many occasions & knew it was something about horse racing. That alone was enough to turn me off reading it but you made it sound really interesting. Not on par with this book I'm sure, but have you read any of the Dick francis novels? I have one or two but have never got around to reading them - don't know if they're worth the effort, but they centre around horse racing.

    1. Hi Carol. I'm with you. It's a mark of Hillenbrand's writing skills that she can get me interested in a book about horse racing. It's also really about the humans surrounding the horse and human stories are always interesting to me.

      I tried reading one of the Dick Francis novels. The writing was well done and the story line was promising.

      I quit a couple of chapters into it however because they language got too raunchy. It's a shame because I think otherwise I would have enjoyed the story.

      Thanks for the compliment on Chris' book. If you know anyone who would be interested in buying, please let them know about it. We appreciate all the visibility he can get!

    2. We tend to us bookdepository over here for new books. I just did a search & found his books on their website: https://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=The+fifth+day%2C+wade&search=Find+book

      There's no image, which is a shame. I wonder if that can be remedied?

    3. Carol: That is strange. I'll talk to Chris about that. I wonder if it has to do with Book Depository's way of selling. I noticed that when Chris put his book up for sale, immediately several other sellers also had it for sale. I guess they have bots that automatically sell what's on Amazon.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.