Seabiscuit, An American Legend

Hillenbrand, Laura

Ballantine, 2002

pp. 108 - 109

Seabiscuit was “fanatically competitive . . . Those unfamiliar with horses might scoff at the notion of equine pride as a silly anthropomorphism, but the behavior is unmistakable. Those who make their lives among horses see it every day. Horses who lose their riders during races almost always try to win anyway, charging to the lead and sometimes bucking with pleasure as they pass the last opponent. Weanling herds stampede around their paddocks several times a day, running all-out to beat one another. Even old stallions, decades away from the track, still duel with one another up and down the fences of breeding farms. As George Woolf noted, losers show clear signs of dejection and frustration, even shame; winners prick their ears and swagger. ‘You don’t have to tell good horses when they win or lose,’ he said. ‘They know.’ Humans aren’t the only creatures to seek mastery and rebel at being mastered. The fire that had kept Seabiscuit frustrated and unruly now fueled a bounding will to win. It first surfaced in the midst of a scorching workout alongside the excellent sprinter, Exhibit. Seabiscuit had him beaten, but instead of pulling away, he eased himself up and galloped alongside, going just fast enough to keep Exhibit a notch behind. Exhibit tried his hardest, but Seabiscuit kept adjusting his speed to maintain the short advantage. He appeared to be taunting Exhibit. The two kept it up for a few furlongs before Exhibit abruptly pulled himself up. From that day forward, he refused to work with Seabiscuit. The scene would be reenacted countless times on the racetrack in the next few years, and it would become Seabiscuit’s trademark. The horse seemed to take sadistic pleasure in harassing and humiliating his rivals, slowing down to mock them as he passed, snorting in their faces, and pulling up when in front so other horses could draw alongside, then dashing their hopes with a killing burst of speed. Where other horses relied solely on speed to win, Seabiscuit used intimidation. Finding workmates was immediately problematic. One by one, Seabiscuit disposed of other horses in morning workouts, merrily abusing them as he ran. Horses all over the barn became his mortal enemies. Others were heartbroken; Seabiscuit could suck the joy out of any good racehorse’s career.”