The 135th running of the Kentucky Derby is tomorrow and beyond the mint-julips and fancy hats, there will be a horse race. While horse racing has faded in popularity, at one time it was one of the most popular sports in America, avidly followed by thousands of fans across the nation from big events (like the Derby) to small country tracks.
Perhaps no figure epitomized the huge interest in the sport as much as a modest little horse called Seabiscuit. Racing in the 1930s and 40s, he had a life story that the masses suffering through the Great Depression could relate to – he was of non-descript breeding, undersized and awkward, with a cantankerous personality that didn’t respond well to punishment. Yet with the right combination of support, understanding, training and luck, Seasbiscuit became a huge star, setting multiple records and beating fancy, expensive East coast horses. It’s the classic American story of the underdog overcoming all adversity.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand is more than a feel-good story about a horse; it’s also a look into that unique time in America when the Great Depression seemed never-ending and the world was on the brink of war. This is story-telling at its best – incredibly well researched, riveting non-fiction that reads like fiction. The build-up to the big races – especially the match race with War Admiral and the Santa Anita Derby – is nearly unbearable, and the comebacks after injury (for both Seabiscuit and his jockey) are incredible. The people – the jockey who was blind in one eye, the reclusive trainer, the rags-to-riches owner – are not Hollywood characters but real people and their stories will move you.
The book has spawned a movie by the same name and while the movie is well-acted, beautifully photographed and well worth watching, this is another case of the book being better than the movie. For action, drama and heart you simply can’t beat the story of Seabiscuit.