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Movie Review

Seabiscuit: The Saga of a Great Champion
by B.K. Beckwith
Drawings by Howard Brodie, Foreword by Grantland Rice
Westholme Publishing, July 2003, 66 pages, softcover
(originally published in 1940 by Wilfred Crowell, Inc.)

With the racing world and the population in general all talking about Seabiscuit, the horse, the movie and the book by Laura Hillenbrand that inspired it, this reprint of a 1940 book about the great horse gives an interesting angle on this amazing story. Unlike current works, which were written years later after compiling historical data and news stories from the day, Beckwith's work is contemporary - it was written in 1940, shortly after Seabiscuit's win in his final race, the Santa Anita Handicap - giving us a look at the career of Seabiscuit through the eyes of someone who followed his career as it happened. Those who have read Hillenbrand's best-selling book and/or have seen the movie will appreciate the story even more by reading this almost first-hand angle on the story.

Tributes to Seabiscuit lead off the text, first with Grantland Rice's wonderfully written foreword and then a brief statement by Seabiscuit's owner Charles Howard. Howard wrote, "All of us who are close to 'Biscuit naturally have the deepest affection for him. The thrills he has given us will never be equaled," and the chapters that follow prove him right.

Beckwith used a simple, easy to read writing style with short sentences and frequent use of direct quotes, which keep the text rather fast paced indeed. Seabiscuit's life is described chronologically, starting with his humble beginnings as a foal at Claiborne Farm and a not-too-successful start on the track under the tutelage of "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons.

His purchase by the Howards under the advice of "Silent" Tom Smith is well documented, followed quickly by his sudden success while ridden by Red Pollard. The speed he didn't show early on was finally getting him into the winner's circle, at different tracks, often in record time.

Both losses in the Santa Anita Handicap are covered, with the infamous loss to Rosemont missing the detail that Pollard was blind in his right eye, something that was unknown to the author at the time of writing. Pollard never revealed that secret until after his retirement from riding, since he would have been banned as a jockey if word did get out.

As expected, the Pimlico match race against Triple Crown winner War Admiral is given an entire chapter to itself. George Woolf's masterful ride aboard Seabiscuit, outbreaking War Admiral, letting him catch up on the backstretch, then drawing away to win by four lengths, is described in detail.

Like the movie, the book concludes with Seabiscuit finally winning the Santa Anita Handicap in his third try in what would be his final career start. Beckwith wrote, "He was old was he? Broken down? Champions don't come back, eh? Here's one that did [...] one whose hoofbeats will echo in the hallowed halls of time till the last post bugle has sounded, and great horses gallop no more on this earth."

It is worth noting that this book was used extensively by Laura Hillenbrand in the writing of her best-selling work, and the movie appears to have followed this book as far as Seabiscuit's racing career under the Howards is concerned. The book includes 23 photographs of Seabiscuit as well as 17 specially commissioned line drawings by Howard Brodie, one of America's premier illustrators. This book belongs in every racing fan's bookshelf, especially new fans of Seabiscuit drawn to his story by the movie and the recent works put out about him who would appreciate a more first hand description of his career. This is a timeless work and we are fortunate that it is being reprinted, for the first time in some sixty years, for today's fans to enjoy. As Grantland Rice wrote in the foreword, "There may be faster horses later on who will win more money. But there will never be a gamer horse - and I don't believe there will ever be another Seabiscuit. I think you will agree with me when you have read the story of his career."

Seabiscuit: The Saga of a Great Champion has a list price of $19.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $13.97.

Rating:     5/5

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