January 25, 2005


AUDIO: Races on the Radio: Pimlico Special: Match Race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral at Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, MD, November 1, 1938
Seabiscuit Tops Admiral By Three Lengths Before Pimlico Crowd of 40,000 (Grantland Rice, 11/02/1938, Baltimore Sun)

A little horse with the heart of a lion and the flying feet of a gazelle yesterday proved his place as the gamest thoroughbred that ever raced over an American track.

In one of the greatest match races ever run in the ancient history of the turf, the valiant Seabiscuit not only conquered the great War Admiral but, beyond this, he ran the beaten son of Man o' War into the dirt and dust of Pimlico.

Breaks Pimlico Track Record

Head and head around the last far turn, Seabiscuit, ably ridden by George Woolf, beat War Admiral by a full three lengths down the last furlong with a dazzling burst of speed that not only cracked the heart of the Admiral but, in addition, broke the track record, set by Pompoon. Seabiscuit took a fifth of a second from the track record, which he now holds at 1.56 3-5.

The drama and the melodrama of this match race, held before a record crowd keyed to the highest tension I have seen in sport, set an all-time mark.

No Emotional Outburst At Post

You must get the picture from the start to absorb the thrill of this perfect autumn day over a perfect track. As the two thoroughbreds paraded to the post there was no emotional outburst. The big crowd was too full of tension, the type of tension that locks the human throat.

You looked at the odds flashed upon the mutual board -- War Admiral 1 to 4, Seabiscuit 2 to 1. Even those backing War Admiral, the great majority of the crowd, felt their pity for the son of Hard Tack and Swing On, who had come along the hard way and had churned up the dust of almost every track from the Great Lakes to the Gulf, from the Atlantic to Pacific.

After two false walking starts, they were off. But it wasn't the fast-flying War Admiral who took the lead. It was Seabiscuit, taking the whip from Woolf, who got the jump. It was Seabiscuit who had a full length lead as they passed the first furlong. The Admiral's supporters were dazed as the 'Biscuit not only held this lead, but increased it to two lengths before they passed the first quarter.

Admiral Moves Up

The 'Biscuit was moving along as smoothly as a Southern breeze. And then the first roar of the big crowd swept over Maryland. The Admiral was moving up. Stride by stride, Man o' War's favorite offspring was closing up the open gap. You could hear the roar from thousands of throats -- "Here he comes -- here he comes!"

And the Admiral was under full steam. He cut away a length. He cut away another length as they came to the half-mile post -- and now they were running head and head. The Admiral looked Seabiscuit in the eye at the three-quarters -- but Seabiscuit never got the look. He was too busy running, with his shorter, faster stride.

For almost a half mile they ran as one horse, painted against the green, red and orange foliage of a Maryland countryside. They were neck and neck -- head and head -- nose and nose.

Seabiscuit Refuses to Quit

The great Admiral had thrown his challenge. You could see that he expected Seabiscuit to quit and curl up. But Seabiscuit has never been that brand of horse. I had seen him before in two $100,000 races at Santa Anita, boxed out, knocked to his knees, taking the worst of all the racing luck -- almost everything except facing a firing squad or a machine-gun nest -- and yet, through all this barrage of trouble, Seabiscuit was always there, challenging at the wire. I saw him run the fastest half-mile ever run at Santa Anita last March, when he had to do it in his pursuit of Stagehand.

So, when War Admiral moved up on even terms, and 40,000 throats poured out their tribute to the Admiral, I still knew that the 'Biscuit would be alongside at the finish. The 'Biscuit had come up the hard way. That happens to be the only way worth while. The Admiral had only known the softer years -- the softer type of competition. He had never met before a combination of a grizzly bear and a running fool.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2005 11:53 PM

Grit is a, perhaps the, primary virtue.

Posted by: Palmcroft at January 26, 2005 10:50 AM