SpectraVET Classic Performance of the Week: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit
Heralded as the “Match of the Century,” today we remember this 1938 showdown between two of the greatest racers in American history.
Photo/text via Wikimedia Commons:
On November 1, 1938, Seabiscuit met War Admiral and jockey Charles Kurtsinger in what was dubbed the “Match of the Century.” The event was run over 1 and 3/16 miles (1.91 km) at the Pimlico Race Course, which from the grandstands to the infield was jammed solid with fans. Trains were run from all over the country to bring fans to the race, and the estimated 40,000 at the track were joined by some 40 million listening on the radio. War Admiral was the favorite (1–4 with most bookmakers) and a nearly unanimous selection of the writers and tipsters, excluding the California faithful.
Head-to-head races favor fast starters, and War Admiral's speed from the gate was well known. Seabiscuit, on the other hand, was a pace stalker, skilled at holding with the pack before pulling ahead with late acceleration. From the scheduled walk-up start, few gave him a chance to lead War Admiral into the first turn. Trainer Tom Smith knew these things, and had been secretly training Seabiscuit to run against this hype, using a starting bell and a whip to give the horse a Pavlovian burst of speed from the start.
When the bell rang, Seabiscuit ran away from the Triple Crown champion. Despite being drawn on the outside, jockey George Woolf led by over a length after just 20 seconds and soon crossed over to the rail position. Halfway down the backstretch, War Admiral started to cut into the lead, gradually pulling level with Seabiscuit, then slightly ahead. Following advice he had received from Seabiscuit's original jockey Red Pollard, Woolf had eased up on Seabiscuit, allowing his horse to see his rival, then asked for more effort. Two hundred yards from the wire, Seabiscuit pulled away again and continued to extend his lead over the closing stretch, finally winning by four clear lengths despite War Admiral's running his best time for the distance.
Go Seabiscuit, and Go Riding!
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