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Book Review

Seabiscuit An American Legend
by Laura Hillenbrand
from Random House, 399 pages (includes acknowledgments, notes, and index)

The recent abundance of horse racing books released can be attributed to this one masterpiece. Equus writer Laura Hillenbrand defied the odds with Seabiscuit: An American Legend, topping the New York Times best-seller list and winning multiple awards in both the racing and non-racing media including Europe's William Hill Sports Book of the Year and an Eclipse Award.

In the 1930's Depression era, the world needed a hero. An unattractive Thoroughbred, trained by a long time cowboy, owned by a car salesman, and ridden by a jockey blind in one eye, stepped up and captured the hearts and minds of many.

Hillenbrand thoroughly and colorfully paints the picture of this unlikely group, first dedicating full chapters for biographical sketches of each of the human players and educating the reader on the history of the Sport of Kings. They were interesting characters indeed such as trainer Tom Smith who didn't like to talk to reporters and used a look-alike, Grog, to deceive media and clockers into thinking they had seen and timed his star horse in morning workouts.

In keeping with the Depression theme, Hillenbrand continues with one hard-luck story after another -- the horrific injuries suffered by jockey Red Pollard and the poverty he suffered while off, the destruction of the old Tijuana racetrack by flood, and the San Francisco earthquake's effect on his owner. But it seemed that Seabiscuit was destined to win, and he did, over long distances and carrying weights unheard of today, traveling between starts for days on trains across the continent.

Where the book truly shines is in Hillenbrand's account of the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap, at the time the world's richest race and the one that had eluded Seabiscuit and frustrated his connections. Having conquered War Admiral in the great match race at Pimlico well over a year ago, it was the last bit of unfinished business in a remarkable career. It was also Red Pollard's chance to shine as he was finally back from the injury that allowed him to only listen from his hospital bed to the radio call of the match race where George Woolf followed his riding instructions to victory.

Hillenbrand brings us back to an era racing fans today wish would return, when racing was king and drew large crowds and widespread media attention. But more importantly, her work is appealing to almost anyone, including those who have never attended a race or read a book about the sport before. Those who have never heard of Seabiscuit can now understand the greatness racing fans of the late 1930's were fortunate to have witnessed first-hand. This broad appeal has led to a feature film currently in production that is slated for wide release in the fall of 2003.

This reviewer strongly recommends Seabiscuit: An American Legend to anybody, especially racing fans with a thirst for history. The hope is that the book, and the upcoming movie, will help bring racing back into the spotlight it experienced when Seabiscuit was drawing record crowds to his performances.

eabiscuit has a cover price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for only $17.47 in hardcover. A softcover edition is also available with a cover price of $15.95 which is available from Amazon.com for $9.57.

Rating:     5/5

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