Seabiscuit was named American Horse of the Year in 1938 and in six years, between 1935 and 1940, won 33 of his 89 races and a record $437,730 in prize money. Seabiscuit was bred, and initially owned, by Gladys Mills Phipps, under the name Wheatley Stable.
An aptly named son of Hard Tack – hard tack, a.k.a. ship’s biscuit or sea biscuit, was a hard, coarse kind of biscuit formerly issued as rations for sailors – Seabiscuit was a small, unprepossessing yearling with short, spindly legs. Having shown some promise at two, and three – although evidently not enough to satisfy his original trainer “Sunny” Jim Fitsimmons – Sea Biscuit was bought, for $8,000, out of a claiming stakes race at Saratoga in August 1936 by prominent owner Charles Howard and sent to veteran trainer Robert Thomas “Tom” Smith.
Smith recruited Canadian jockey John “Red” Pollard to ride Seabiscuit and by the end of his three-year-old campaign had coaxed the little horse to nine wins from 23 starts, including the Bay Bridge Handicap and the At the World’s Fair Handicap, both at Bay Meadows. In 1937, Seabiscuit tried, but failed by a nose, to win the biggest prize on horse racing, at the time, the Santa Anita Handicap, a.k.a. “The Hundred Grander”, worth over $125,000 to the winner. In 1938, with George Woolf replacing the injured Pollard in the saddle, he tried again but, after suffering an interrupted passage, was again edged out by the minimum margin.
Later in 1938, Seabiscuit faced 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral in the so-called Pimlico Special – dubbed the “Match of the Century” – over 1 mile 1½ furlongs at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore, Maryland. Seabiscuit made the running, but jockey George Woolf, acting under instruction from Pollard, allowed War Admiral to draw alongside heading into the far turn, so that his mount could “eyeball” his rival. When asked for extra effort in the closing stages, Seabiscuit easily drew away to win by 4 lengths.
Seabiscuit was officially retired to stud in 1939 after sustaining an injury on his one and only start. However, in 1940 he came out of retirement for just one race, the Santa Anita Handicap, which had eluded him twice before. On his third attempt, reunited with Pollard, he made no mistake, beating stablemate Kayak by 2½ lengths in a record time.