Seabiscuit Summary

Laura Hillenbrand


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Seabiscuit Summary

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Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand—a nonfiction book—thematically links the fate of a horse with the fate of a nation during a time of crisis: the Great Depression. The small, bandy-legged horse, which shouldn’t have won, became a symbol of grit and success to every common, ordinary US citizen suffering through terrible economic hardship. Through his career, Seabiscuit showed the stamina, heart, and speed to prove that even a down-and-out thoroughbred racehorse can make a comeback. By winning against all odds, Seabiscuit became a symbol to the American people of the values that they must espouse to endure and to triumph over adversity.

In Hillenbrand’s narrative, many of the people surrounding Seabiscuit also have to struggle against great hardship to survive. His jockey, John “Red” Pollard, left home at a young age to train as a jockey, and he eventually ended up in Mexico at a famous racetrack. Red did become a jockey, but he also was too tall (at 5’ 7”) for a jockey, and he became an alcoholic to numb the physical pain of his many riding injuries. He also lost half of his sight when a stone thrown up by a horse’s hoof during a race caused a traumatic brain injury. Pollard kept his blindness a secret for many years. Pollard also suffered many injuries as a young man in the boxing ring, where he fought as a scrappy underdog for extra cash. He also met George Wolff in Mexico, a more successful, fellow jockey, and they became best friends.

Seabiscuit was discovered during a claiming race in Mexico when he was three years old. Already washed up, this eccentric, lazy, food-loving glutton of a horse was as unlikely a winner as Red Pollard was. Seabiscuit’s owner, Charles Howard, a self-made, millionaire car salesman, built an empire from nothing, and he saw something in this horse that he liked: a will to win. Finally, his cowboy trainer, Tom Smith, laconic and driven, formed the last member of this unusual family that supported Seabiscuit’s rise to fame.

Later, George Wolfe took over riding Seabiscuit when Red’s shattered health, including a leg broken in a riding accident, would not permit him to ride. George actually rode Seabiscuit in his most famous race, the 1938 grudge-match against War Admiral.

Covering a period from 1929–1940, Hillenbrand also weaves a plethora of social and economic facts and events into her narrative that provide added resonance to Seabiscuit’s success. Throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, Seabiscuit’s races drew record crowds. Beginning in Tijuana and highlighted by “The Biscuit’s” win against Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, Seabiscuit’s career mirrored the hopes of millions who wanted to believe in the American Dream of success, desperate for relief from the bad economic times, and the shadow of World War II as it quickly approached.

Hillenbrand blends the history of the times in the United States as they are reflected in the history and fate of a horse, and the histories of the men who led Seabiscuit to victory. Unique and evocative of a particular time and place, Seabiscuit ultimately embodies the endurance of the American people.