1750: Early History

American horse breeders and racers establish the Jockey Club. Today, the club still defines standards and regulations for racing, racecourses and breeding.

Diomed fathered many American Thoroughbreds
Library of Congress

Diomed fathered many American Thoroughbreds

English racing legend Diomed is imported to Virginia. Having failed as a stud in England, and with his best days thought to be behind him, the 21-year-old stallion adapts happily to American life, siring so many children that he will be considered the father of American Thoroughbreds.

May 27, 1823

Thoroughbreds American Eclipse and Sir Henry meet in three four-mile races at Union Race Course for a first North versus South match-up. The Northern contender, Eclipse, wins. A North-South horse racing rivalry will continue up until the Civil War.


Westward-moving settlers take horse racing with them, establishing the sport in Illinois, Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana.


Prospectors heading to the Gold Rush bring Thoroughbreds to California.

Race horses reported for duty during the Civil War
Library of Congress

Race horses reported for duty during the Civil War

Thoroughbred racing suffers a huge setback during the Civil War. The breeding centers of Virginia and the Carolinas are destroyed. Thoroughbreds are pushed into military service.

August 3, 1863

A new racetrack opens in Saratoga, New York. The state is on its way to becoming the center of American racing.

The race at Belmont is born
Library of Congress

The race at Belmont is born
June 19, 1867: American Racetracks

The first Belmont Stakes is run at Jerome Park. The race will later move to Belmont Park and become the third and final jewel in the Triple Crown.

May 27, 1873

The first Preakness Stakes, which will become the second race of the Triple Crown, is run at Pimlico Course in Maryland.

May 27, 1875

The Kentucky Derby is first run at the Louisville Jockey Club Course, later known as Churchill Downs. It will become the first trophy in the Triple Crown.


Horse racing fans can bet at over 300 racetracks across the country, but members of the rising progressive movement include gambling among the social ills they campaign to reform.


Charles Howard, who will later own Seabiscuit, arrives in San Francisco, California, with 21 cents to his name. In 1905 he will open a California Buick dealership with three cars.

April 18, 1906

The San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires destroy everything in a 4.7-square-mile area, including 28,000 buildings. Charles Howard uses automobiles from his Buick showroom as rescue vehicles when horses are injured or refuse to go down burning streets.

February 5, 1909

Gambling corruption at racetracks leads the California state legislature to ban betting on horses. New York State soon follows.

May 31, 1910

George Woolf, who will ride Seabiscuit in the great match race with War Admiral, is born.

November 1, 1910

Red Pollard, Seabiscuit’s jockey, is born.

Regret, an unlikely winner
Library of Congress

Regret, an unlikely winner
May 8, 1915

A filly named Regret wins the Kentucky Derby, running against a field of colts.

1919: Horse Racing Takes Off

After World War I, horse racing booms. Tracks are now free from the problems of wartime rationing and limited transportation. Increased use of the pari-mutuel system is slowly helping to make betting on horses legal again. More racetracks open.

June 11, 1919

Sir Barton becomes the first horse to win all three of the most important stakes races for three-year-olds: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. This series of races will later be known as the Triple Crown.

October 29, 1929

The U.S. stock market crashes, triggering the Great Depression, the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world.

Trophies from the three Triple Crown races
Museum of Racing

Trophies from the three Triple Crown races

A sportswriter coins the term “Triple Crown” when Gallant Fox wins the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.


Now wealthy from selling automobiles, Charles Howard marries for a second time. Marcela Zabala is the older sister of his son’s wife. The couple shares a passion for horse racing.

March 4, 1933

In his inaugural address President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tells Americans, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” A week later, nearly 60 million people sit by their radios to listen to Roosevelt’s first “fireside chat.”

March 13, 1933

Racetrack betting is legalized again in California. Over the next six years, betting on horses will become legal again in 21 states, as Depression-era governments struggle to find revenue. Times are tough: one in four Americans is unemployed, and the average annual salary for those working is $1,367.

May 23, 1934: Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit is born. He is the descendant of the great Thoroughbred Man o’ War, through his son Hard Tack.

Fall, 1934

James 'Sunny Jim’ Fitzsimmons, a successful thoroughbred conditioner and Seabiscuit’s first trainer, notes Seabiscuit’s speed in workouts. Fitzsimmons uses the whip on Seabiscuit to break the horse’s lazy habits.

Tom Smith seeks work at Agua Caliente in Tijuana, Mexico. There he meets Charles Howard, who hires him as his horse trainer.

June 11, 1935

Two-year-old Seabiscuit loses his seventeenth consecutive race. Though he is racing in poor company, he has yet to win a single race.

June 29: 1936

Tom Smith and Seabiscuit meet at Suffolk Downs outside Boston, Massachusetts. They look at each other and nod. Recognizing something special about the horse, Smith leans over the rail and whispers to Seabiscuit, “I’ll see you again.”

August 3

Charles and Marcela Howard see Seabiscuit win a race at Saratoga. Tom Smith looks the horse over and tells Howard to buy Seabiscuit.

Jockey Red Pollard and Seabiscuit
University of Southern California

Jockey Red Pollard and Seabiscuit
August 16

Red Pollard, traveling around looking for work as a jockey, walks into the Detroit Race Track, where he meets Tom Smith and Seabiscuit. Smith sees that Pollard and Seabiscuit are compatible.

September 7

Seabiscuit achieves his first big win in the Governor’s Handicap, winning over half his purchase price. It is the fiftieth race of his career, and the first in which he displays a new-found inclination for racing.

October 24

Long-shot Seabiscuit wins the Scarsdale Handicap, a mid-level stakes race. The fierce contest is won by mere inches in a photo finish.


Baseball dominates the sports news. In his rookie season, Joe DiMaggio takes the New York Yankees to the World Series. He hits a scorching .346 in his first World Series against the Giants and the Yankees are again baseball champions, the first time since 1932.

President Franklin Roosevelt receives a second overwhelming mandate at the polls with 61% of the popular vote.

November 28

Seabiscuit wins the Bay Bridge Handicap by five lengths, clocking the fifth fastest mile on record at the time.

December 12

Seabiscuit wins the World’s Fair Handicap easily. He comes down the stretch alone, to wild cheers and Pollard’s futile attempts to slow his speed. Four days later he will arrive in Santa Anita and be welcomed by a skeptical press corps.

Winter: 1937

A few bad breaks prevent Seabiscuit from racing and cultivate his laziness and love of food — setting him back in his conditioning for the Santa Anita Handicap, a race with an unheard-of $100,000 purse.

February 27

In his first try at the Santa Anita Handicap, Seabiscuit loses to Rosemont by a nose in a photo finish.

March 6

Seabiscuit draws a crowd of 45,000 excited fans and wins the San Juan Capistrano Handicap by seven lengths, smashing the track record.

May 6

The German airship Hindenburg bursts into flames as it is about to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey. A reporter on the scene describes the horrific event to a live radio audience.

May 29

A week after winning the Bay Meadows Handicap, Seabiscuit heads to the East Coast, to prove himself in the home of racing’s prestige.

June 5

War Admiral captures the Triple Crown after a win at the Belmont Stakes despite stumbling at the start and injuring his right foreleg.

Seabiscuit takes off
Library of Congress

Seabiscuit takes off
June 26

Seabiscuit runs in the Brooklyn Handicap, beating rival Rosemont and local horse Aneroid. Eastern writers who had previously called him “Glorified Plater” are now reluctantly quieted.

In July he will win the Butler Handicap and the Yonkers Handicap easily, despite carrying far more weight than his competitors in both races.

October 12

Seabiscuit wins the Continental Handicap in New York, gaining the top spot in the 1937 winnings race with $152,780 earned, $8,000 ahead of War Admiral.

November 6

After being scratched from two races in the previous week due to muddy track conditions, Seabiscuit easily wins the Riggs Handicap after rival War Admiral is scratched. Seabiscuit breaks the track record while carrying a startling 130 pounds. With the win, Seabiscuit now moves past War Admiral in earnings by $9,000.


Seabiscuit begins the train journey back to California, stopping along the way to appear for his adoring fans.

December 7

Following a near-collision with another horse and rider at Tanforan Race Track in California, Pollard is suspended from racing at Tanforan for the remainder of 1937. In the wake of the devastating suspension, War Admiral is named horse of the year by Turf and Sport Digest.

Two weeks later Pollard will be suspended by the California Horse Racing Commission from riding on any California track until January 1, 1938. Furious at the harsh judgment, Howard pulls Seabiscuit out of races until Pollard’s suspension is over.

January: 1938

Howard scratches Seabiscuit from the New Year’s Handicap and the San Pasqual Handicap after the horse is assigned a heavy impost of 132 pounds for both races.

February 1

California police uncover a plot to harm Seabiscuit by placing a sponge up his nose to obstruct his breathing. The “sponging” accusation is front-page news.

February 19

Smith scratches Seabiscuit from his fourth straight race, the San Carlos Handicap, because of rain the night before. Pollard makes the fateful choice to ride Fair Knightess, and the horse falls, crushing the left side of Pollard’s chest.

March 5

In Seabiscuit’s second appearance at the Santa Anita hundred-grander, George Woolf rides the bay colt as Pollard, recuperating from his fall, watches from the stands. Trapped at the start by Count Atlas, Seabiscuit loses to Stagehand in a photo finish. Despite the loss, many consider Seabiscuit’s performance the greatest in racing history and attribute his loss only to the weight system and a foul by another horse.

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

Did you or a family member experience life in America in the 1930s? What does the decade mean to you? Share your American experience with us.