words: inspiring, journalistic, vivid
just sitting on a library shelf, being all obvious and popular with readers for
more than a decade.
telling you… there are books I know I’d like, and then I just don’t read them.
Until I get infected with horse fever after a visit to the Kentucky Derby
then I spent the happiest days absorbed in the Depression-era story of an
unlikely winner and his troupe of humans.
why can’t reading always be like this?
was a hugely famous horse whose name I’d never heard until the book was
released. But he was a cultural phenomenon in the late 1930s. And he’s one of 4
main characters in this doozy of a book. The others are humans: the trainer,
the jockey, and the owner.
humans, the trainer, Tom Smith, was probably my favorite. He looked like Truman
and spoke like (Silent Cal) Coolidge. Here’s a good quote:
Smith,’ wrote a reporter, ‘says almost nothing, constantly.’” (p. 204)
later in the story:
sound, brilliantly fast, and impeccably prepared, had spoken on Smith’s
behalf.” (p. 237)
was laconic to the extreme, and he was a brilliant horseman. And he knew
exactly what to do to bring out the best in Seabiscuit. The two had a
moments of uncertainty, the horse would pause and look for Smith. When he found
his trainer, the horse would relax.” (p. 104)
thing I found fascinating was the jockey-horse relationship, and the way the
two act as one on the racetrack. Seabiscuit’s primary jockey was Red Pollard, a
book-loving man who suffered serious injuries that would’ve halted a man less obsessed
with his work. He and Smith knew their horse, and Seabiscuit trusted them. It
really was a lovely thing.
Pollard, who called the horse Pops, sat outside the stall, reading the paper
while Seabiscuit was cooled out, the horse would tug his hot walker off course
to snuffle his jockey’s hands.” (p. 104)
Seabiscuit himself is my favorite of anyone in the book. In looks he was compared to a plowhorse, he had legs that didn’t straighten, he was short, and his gait was ungainly. But the guy got the job done. He was a fierce competitor.
But he also suffered some serious
setbacks and injuries, and that makes the story even more inspiring. Seabiscuit
and his humans were masters of the comeback.
So the story by itself is fantastic, and then you throw in Hillenbrand’s lively writing, and this book becomes nearly perfect.
description of the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral is some of the
best writing I’ve ever read. Here’s just one excerpt:
“cocked an ear toward his rival, listening to him, watching him. He refused to
let War Admiral pass. The battle was joined. The horses stretched out over the
track. Their strides, each twenty-one feet in length, fell in perfect synch.
They rubbed shoulders and hips, heads snapping up and reaching out together,
legs gathering up and unfolding in unison.” (p. 272)
that chapter as hungrily as I used to read as a child.
then, watching the footage of the race, at first it gave me chills. And then I
burst into tears. And continue to do so every time I watch the thing start to
And then there’s that Hollywood movie that I hear isn’t half bad. (Hesitant to see it: I liked the book too much!)