Seabiscuit’s historic 1938 match race against War Admiral was front-page news in The Baltimore Sun. Pimlico, the Maryland race track where the dueling Thoroughbreds met, had never seen such excitement — tens of thousands showed up on a Tuesday afternoon to watch. Read an assortment of Sun articles from Wednesday, November 2, 1938, the day after the match race.
Seabiscuit Tops Admiral By Three Lengths Before Pimlico Crowd of 40,000
Sets Track Record And Shows Superior Speed And Courage Over Mile-And-Three-Sixteenths Route
Rises To Second Place In Turf Earnings, With Total of $340,000 — Rice Says Victor Is Gamest That Ever Raced In U.S.
By Grantland Rice
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.
Head and Head
Head and head they came to the mile. There wasn’t a short conceded putt between them. It was a question now of the horse that had the heart. Seabiscuit had lost his two-length margin. His velvet had been shot away. He was on his own where all races are won — down in the stretch.
He had come to the great kingdom of all sport — the kingdom of heart.
The Admiral had shown his reserve speed. From two lengths away he was now on even terms. But as they passed the mile post with three-sixteenths left — the vital test —the stretch that always tells the story — where 40,000 looked for the fleet War Admiral to move away — there was another story. Seabiscuit was still hanging on. Seabiscuit hadn’t quit. With barely more than a final furlong left, the hard-way son of Hard Tack must have said to the Admiral — “Now let’s start running. Let’s see who is the better horse.”
Start to Move Away
Foot by foot and yard by yard, Woolf and Seabiscuit started moving away. Charlie Kurtsinger gave the Admiral the whip. But you could see from the stands that Admiral suddenly knew that he had nothing left in heart or feet to match this wild, crazy five-year-old who all his life had known only the uphill, knockdown, devil-take-the-loser route, any track — any distance — any weight — any time. And who the hell are you?
War Admiral had no answer. Down the final furlong the great-hearted 'Biscuit put on extra speed. He moved on by. Then he opened a small gap. Forty thousand expected the Admiral to move up; close the gap again. But the Admiral was through. He had run against too many plow horses and plasters in his soft, easy life. He had never tackled a Seabiscuit before.
He had never met a horse who could look him in the eye down the stretch and say to him, in horse language — “Now let’s start traveling, kid. How do you feel? I feel great. This is down my alley.”
Admiral is Outrun
Yard by yard, Seabiscuit moved on ahead. Then it was length by length. Seabiscuit left the Admiral so far behind that it wasn’t even a contest down the stretch. War Admiral might just as well have been chasing a will o’ the wisp in a midnight swamp. He might just as well have been a fat poodle chasing a meat wagon. He had been outrun and outgamed — he had been run off the track by a battered five-year-old who had more speed and heart.
The race, they say, isn’t to the swift. But it is always to the swift and the game. It so happened that Seabiscuit had these two important qualities. The hard-way son of Hard Tack had these qualities in deep abundance. War Admiral could match neither flying feet nor fighting heart. Man o’ War’s brilliant son hung on with all he had until it came to the big showdown — to the point when the hard-way thoroughbred, the horse from the wrong side of the track, began really to run.
As a result of this race, Seabiscuit moved up into second place for total lifetime winnings with $340,000 — just back of Sun Beau with $376,244. But there is only one Seabiscuit — the next one to him is Exterminator. These have been the two great horses, year by year, of the American turf.
I nominate Seabiscuit for heart and speed, for all it takes at the top for one of the greatest competitive efforts I have ever seen in a matter of forty years. Quite a horse, this Seabiscuit. Name me a better, gamer, or faster one over the route.
Biscuit Gives Best Performance of His Varied Turf Career
By Don Reed
Seabiscuit, the horse who rose to fame the hard way, yesterday turned in the finest performance of his long and varied career as he defeated War Admiral in the Pimlico Special by a clean-cut margin of three lengths.
Underdog in this long-awaited duel of turf champions, Seabiscuit not only whipped War Admiral soundly, but whipped him in record track time.
Seabiscuit, the horse many experts said never had looked a good horse in the eye and then gone on to win, looked War Admiral in the eye a half mile from the wire and then drew away from his famed opponent to win by three lengths.
Second Place in Earnings
Seabiscuit, the $8,000 bargain for Charles S. Howard, the San Francisco automobile distributor, now has risen from the ranks of being a castoff of the Wheatley Stable to a place second only to the great Sun Beau in earnings on the turf.
Seabiscuit, the gallant son of Hard Tack, running his eighty-fourth race in four years of campaigning, had too much speed, too much stamina, and too much heart for War Admiral, the offspring of Man o’ War, who previously had won 19 of his 23 races. Seabiscuit’s victory was only his thirty-second in 84 starts, but it was the most glorious.
40,000 Roar Their Approval
Pimlico, opening a new fall season, held 40,000 spectators for the much-discussed meeting between the 'Biscuit and the Admiral and these 40,000 wildly enthusiastic fans let out roar after roar of approval as the Howard representative raced across the finish line, still going strong, while War Admiral sagged badly.
War Admiral was the choice of the crowd and the betting sent his odds down to the prohibitive figure of 25 cents on the dollar, while Seabiscuit was $2.20 to $1.
The race, run contrary to the expectations of the vast majority of the crowd, found Seabiscuit making the early pace for War Admiral. The latter came from behind to gain even terms at one stage, but in the final three-sixteenths of a mile only Seabiscuit had any run left in him.
1-5 Second Off Record
The time — 1.56 3-5 — knocked one-fifth of a second off the track record set by Pompoon in the Dixie Handicap last spring. Pompoon, in making this mark, beat the record set last fall in the Riggs Handicap by Seabiscuit when the Howard horse stepped the mile and three-sixteenths in 1.57 2-5.
With the $15,000 which he earned by his victory over War Admiral, Seabiscuit’s total winnings are $340,000, second only to the record of Sun Beau, which stands at $376,144. Yesterday’s triumph sent Seabiscuit past Equipoise, who earned $338,610 in his racing career. Those 40,000 who packed and jammed Old Hilltop for this brilliant duel of thoroughbreds never will forget the race regardless of their sympathies.
Both Horses Applauded
Both horses were greeted with salvos of applause as they paraded past the grandstand on their way to the starting point at the head of the stretch. Both horses were apparently in perfect condition, the racing strip was lightning fast and a bright sun made conditions ideal for spectators.
When they reached the point three-sixteenths of a mile from the finish line, George Woolf took Seabiscuit for a warmup gallop around the bend, whereas Charley Kurtsinger, on War Admiral, was content to follow the lead pony and turn around for the start without any preliminary exercise.
There was a delay of a minute and a half before George Cassidy, imported from New York at the insistence of Samuel D. Riddle, owner of the Glen Riddle Farms, and War Admiral, just to start this race, sent them on their way. The first delay came when Seabiscuit was a couple of jumps ahead, and Cassidy did not ring the bell. The next time War Admiral had the edge, and again Cassidy refused to be confused, and it was no start.
Admiral Away at Start
Then they broke. For the first jump or two it was War Admiral, always noted for his speed away from either gates or walkup starts such as was used yesterday.
Then the crowd had its first thrill. The horses hadn’t gone a sixteenth of a mile until there was Seabiscuit with his head in front of War Admiral. After an eighth of a mile, Seabiscuit was a length to the clear, and when they flashed under the wire the first time, it was Seabiscuit by two lengths.
They flew around the clubhouse turn that way, with Seabiscuit burning oil on the front end, a couple of lengths clear of the Admiral, and Kurtsinger working hard to keep the latter within striking distance.
Begins to Move Up
In the back stretch, War Admiral began to move up. A great roar of “there he goes” surged out of that packed grandstand, and in less time than it takes to tell, War Admiral was alongside.
Head and head, they sped from the half-mile pole around that final bend. Seabiscuit on the rail and War Admiral on the outside. Seabiscuit began to edge forward again, inch by inch. It appeared they might continue their brilliant duel to the wire.
But at the terrific pace, it was more likely that one of them would crack under the strain. One of them did — and it was War Admiral.
Turning into the home lane, just three-sixteenths of a mile from the wire and the turf championship of the country, Seabiscuit was in front by a neck. Both boys had been whipping all the way around that last turn and it was Seabiscuit who responded to the urging.
With only an eighth to go, Seabiscuit was a length in front and the Admiral was weakening badly. From that point, it was just a question of by how far Seabiscuit would win. Woolf, ever a money rider, never took the slightest chance.
Seabiscuit was still in there pounding away at his best clip as he flashed before the judges and the fans, widening his margin with each stride, while the Admiral was dropping back, back, back.
New Record Cheered
When the time was posted on the board, there was a tremendous cheer, even though Seabiscuit had not yet returned to the winner’s circle. The public, ready to hail the new champion, surged out of control for a moment, and several hundred got onto the race track itself to form a human circle around the two contestants.
Police hustled them back to open a lane for the winner, while Howard, owner of the winner, gave a fine imitation of a Sioux war dance out where all could see.
Scores rushed out to congratulate Howard, Tom Smith, trainer of Seabiscuit, and Woolf, the rider.
When the huge floral wreath was placed across Seabicuit’s sturdy back, the crowd had another chance to give vent to its feelings. Photographers scurried around snapping pictures, radio men tried to get the principals to the microphone for interviews and newspaper men tried to get statements, but the turmoil was such that few succeeded.
Crowd Grabs Flowers
All the fans knew or cared about was that Seabiscuit, the castoff, had dethroned War Admiral and that a new champion had been crowned. These same fans tore the floral blanket to shreds a moment after the presentation ceremonies, and many a fortunate spectator last night placed one of the flowers in the family album as a never-to-be-forgotten souvenir of the occasion.
Howard succeeded in escaping with the trophy, which the Maryland Jockey Club gave to the winning owner, a trophy presented by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, vice-president of the club, and the man who got the two owners together for this great race after almost a year of negotiations and disappointments.
No better day for the staging of a great outdoor sporting event could have been desired. In the early morning, when Jervis Spencer, Jr., chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, was to decide the fitness of the track, it was cool but clear….
Mutuel Total is $754,807
The crowd came prepared to back its choices and the mutuel handle reached a total of $754,807, higher than last Preakness Day and one of the better totals of the last four or five seasons. Of this amount, $76,811 was bet on the Seabiscuit-War Admiral race.
An idea of the record-smashing performance turned in by Seabiscuit in trouncing War Admiral may be had from the fractional time for the race. The first quarter was run in 23 3-5 seconds, the half in .47 3-5, the first six furlongs in 1.11 4-5, the mile in 1.36 4-5, and the mile and three sixteenths in 1.56 3-5.
Seabiscuit, handicapped by an outsider post position in a big field, was beaten at Laurel by Jacola, who set a new track record there for a mile — 1.37, which, in view of yesterday’s speed, was a mighty fine bit of running on the 'Biscuit’s part to finish second.
For Mr. and Mrs. Howard and Trainer Tom Smith, it was the accomplishment of a feat of which they long had dreamed. Also, it was some compensation for the heartbreak they suffered twice in the $100,000 Santa Anita Handicap, when Seabiscuit was beaten by noses in consecutive years by Rosemont and Stagehand.
Also the victory must have been mighty sweet to the handlers of the Biscuit, who was nosed out in a poll of sports and turf writers on the champion horse of 1937. War Admiral was the horse the writers voted as the best of last year. This year it will be Seabiscuit and no questions asked.
Seabiscuit Stays In Front After Taking Rail Away
Leaps to Fore in Three Jumps
'Biscuit’s Speed, Not Foe’s Lack of Heart, Credited With Deciding Race
Hay-Scented Fan Comes To Grief Taking Business From Mutuels
By C. M. Gibbs
The race that would “never be run” finally was, and the myth that was War Admiral disappeared in the dust kicked up by the heels of Seabiscuit. The Little Lord Fauntleroy of the turf met a rough, tough opponent, one which had come up the hard way from down by the vinegar works and couldn’t be bluffed.
The Admiral tried to bluff him on the backstretch. You see at the start the Admiral was supposed to have the inside rail. And he did — at the start. But the 'Biscuit jumped in front in three strides, took the rail — and stayed there.
On the far side, the Admiral made his bid. He began pulling up and soon got alongside. The Admiral wanted to look the 'Biscuit right in the eye. He did. But what he saw there carried no promises of old-age security, and then — the 'Biscuit was gone!
For long, there had been much pro and con regarding the state of the Admiral’s heart under stress of determined opposition. Personally, I have an idea that his failure was due to no lack of stoutness in the ticker. The thing that hampered the Admiral the most was the 'Biscuit’s feet — they moved too fast.
The rooter next to me who emitted a slight aroma of hay was such a rabid Admiral booster that the 'Biscuit was just a draft horse as far as he was concerned.
“Don’t give your money to the machines,” says he. “Give it to me. I’ll take your bet and pay off, ha, ha, at track odds.” It was good service.
Gene Tunney was met up with in the clubhouse. The one-time heavyweight champ, who got out of the game in time to take his dough and good health with him, was thrilled to no end.
No chance of a long count in this contest. It was over too soon.
The guy on the other side of me with the derby and beard tossed his spinach on the Admiral.
He was sorry that radio invasion from Mars story wasn’t true.
Larry MacPhall, of the famed Brooklyn Dodgers, was present, but he didn’t enjoy himself much.
Trouble was everybody else was talking, too.
It was one two-horse race where you could bet on both and still come out a winner.
That’s the kind of race the fans like.
The start was a “walk-up.” The finish was a walk away.
'Twas the twenty-sixth start of the 37 and 38 seasons for the 'Biscuit. He got the dough 17 times.
Admiral’s eighteenth start in the same period — and his second defeat. But this was a spot that wasn’t handpicked.
Some said the 'Biscuit would stop when he looked in the Admiral’s eye.
He did — he stopped coasting and went to town.
As a 3-year-old, the 'Biscuit moved around like a WPA worker. But since he got older, he has been as busy as an installment collector in a tenement district.
The Admiral led the way in the parade to the post, neck arched and very conscious of the applause and loud whoops.
The 'Biscuit strolled along as unconcerned as a sleepwalker passing a red light.
The Admiral walked slowly and proudly all the way to the starting spot, but Jockey Woolf broke the 'Biscuit into a fast gallop after the grandstand had been passed. He galloped him around the bend to the back stretch and then back again.
After the start he just continued his gallop and the Admiral might as well have kept walking.
“Draw 100 bucks out of the bank and bet on the Admiral,” said an earnest fan yesterday morning early. “It’s just like putting the money in a safe.”
Huh, draw what hundred dollars out of which bank?
Woolf Praises Winning Mount
“Best Horse In World,” Says Jockey Of Seabiscuit After Race
“No Excuses,” Explains Kurtsinger, “I Just Couldn’t Make It”
By the Associated Press
The Baltimore Sun, Wednesday, November 2, 1938
It was a gloriously happy Georgie Woolf, the pride of Babb, Mont., who finally managed to slip away to the jockey quarters yesterday after riding Seabiscuit to a smashing victory over War Admiral at Pimlico.
Admirers all but mobbed the chunky little jockey, shouting words of praise at him and demanding yellow flowers from the victory wreath with which the 'Biscuit was adorned.
But Georgie gave all the credit to his mount.
Best Horse In World
“He’s the best horse in the world,” Woolf said. “He proved that today.”
Charles S. Howard, owner of Seabiscuit, could hardly contain himself, and Trainer Tom Smith was obviously happy, although saying little as usual. The race settled beyond all doubt, they said, the question of which was the better horse.
This point was not readily yielded, however, by War Admiral’s trainer, George Conway, who took the defeat very much to heart. “They’ll meet again some day, maybe,” said the lanky veteran of the turf.
“I have no excuses,” said Charley Kurtsinger, the “Flying Dutchman” who rode War Admiral. “What else can I say? I just couldn’t make it.”
Riddle Slips Away
Samuel Riddle, owner of War Admiral, was keenly disappointed and slipped away as soon as he could. But Howard, in contrast, met all comers with a smile and shout of happiness.
“He ran just the kind of race we thought he would,” Howard said. “If the track had been a little faster, I believe Seabiscuit would have broken the world’s record for the distance.”
“I think this race definitely decides the question of which is the better horse. After all, that’s why the race was run, and you see how it turned out.”
Tries To Hide Pleasure
Smith, the taciturn old cowhand, tried to hide his pleasure, but it was no go.
“Seabiscuit ran just the way we trained him, “ Smith said. “I said before the race we had the best horse and this decides it. There can’t be any excuses, not for either horse.”
The bell used to start the race, incidentally, was the same gong that Seabiscuit became accustomed to in learning the walkup start. Smith made it himself, and when a bell was asked for just before the race, this one was selected.
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