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Letters: Seabiscuit's Hollywood spin left me reeling; Steve Miller says the film completely reworked actual events.

Byline: Steve Miller

WOULD like to add to Michael

Tanner's recent letter (November 9) about the liberties taken in the recent Seabiscuit film to create a Hollywood ending.

If Laura Hillenbrand's book Seabiscuit took a certain poetic licence in her telling of the tale, the film completely reworks the actual events.

Contrary to the film version of the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap, Seabiscuit did not make Arazi-like progress from the rear of the field. He, in fact, pressed the trailblazing Whichcee from the

outset and stayed within a length of him.

Kayak II (Charles Howard's other runner, not mentioned at all in the film) was last of the field of 13. As Tanner points out, Seabiscuit was never

behind George Woolf's mount Heelfly, at any time in the race, making

impossible the film version of Woolf [Stevens] dropping back to help Seabiscuit move up.

The leaders held their position

until turning into the straight, by which point Kayak II had advanced to third place.

When Seabiscuit finally moved past Whichcee, Buddy Haas, on Kayak II, was outside the two other horses and in position to see that Seabiscuit had taken control. At that point, it was

reported that he stopped riding.

He put Kayak II under visible

restraint and didn't use his whip, while Pollard continued to flail Seabiscuit, who went on to win the race by a length and a half from his stablemate.

We know from the historian Ralph Shaffer that, prior to the race, Howard had met with Santa Anita racing

officials and `declared to win' with Seabiscuit.

The term, rarely heard today, meant that if they approached the finish line in one-two order, having beaten the field, Kayak II would be held back, if

necessary, to allow Seabiscuit to win.

Since punters would collect regardless of who won, `declaring to win' with Seabiscuit was, in fact, legitimate,

although it went against tradition that the race should go to the best horse.

Howard's motivation for this, of course, was his overriding desire to see Seabiscuit (and Red Pollard) win the `Hundred Grander' at Santa Anita, in so doing making his horse the leading money-winner of all time. It seems clear that Kayak II was in the race for

insurance, should Seabiscuit fail.

Hillenbrand chose not to refer to any of this in her book, but at least she

didn't have Seabiscuit make his move for glory from a hopeless position lengths behind the rear of the field, as the film would have us believe.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, Seabiscuit's victory produced such euphoria that the Daily Racing Form's next-day coverage didn't mention what had happened in the final yards. But the paper's official record of the race noted: "Kayak II . . . ran a sensational race . . . and might have been closer to the winner had he been vigorously ridden in the last sixteenth."

Sports journalist Morton Cathro had seen the race in 1940 and

recounted some of the details in a

column for The Blood-Horse magazine this spring.

He recounted that the Los Angeles Times's turf writer had polled trainers, owners, and other observers and found that "nine out of every ten believed Kayak II could have won".

It is perhaps inevitable that a film would sacrifice facts for the sake of the storyline (although I confess to finding the truth of this more fascinating than the film). But when we read in the reviews how faithful to events the film has been, someone should say something to the vast majority who might well believe that these things



London N13
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Nov 25, 2003
Previous Article:Letters: Dr Pritchard: we need to hear an explanation.
Next Article:Letters: Phar Lap leaves US star in his wake; Mike Laughton was underwhelmed by the cinematic offering.

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