Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral from the DRF archive, 1938

Mar 23rd 2010 01:45 pm |

Our friend Becky Ryder, from the Daily Racing Form Online Archive, wrote in a comment on last week’s article about the recent digitization of the Racing Form’s coverage of the Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race. Of course, this is a well known story with a best selling book and a big budget film but, nobody tells the story better then those who were there to witness and report on the actual race and all that surrounded it. The coverage in the Daily Racing Form, now available at the online archive, provides an unprecedented look at one of the biggest horse races of the twentieth century.

The coverage begins with a report of a workout by War Admiral on October 24 and ends with the Admiral shipping to Narragansett Park for the Rhode Island Handicap on November 4th. At the end of this post, I included direct links to all of the articles related to the big race. I spent Sunday evening reading through them, here are a few things that I found interesting:

War Admiral’s final workout before the November 1st match was at Pimlico. He ran 1 3/16 in 2:02 — that’s not a mis-print, a one mile and three-sixteenths workout.  He also worked a mile and a quarter in 2:07 3/5 just three days before!  Seabiscuit’s final work was on October 27th at Pimlico, he also ran 1 3/16, with a final clocking of 2:00 2/5. The DRF reported the work as follows:

“Without a preliminary gallop and accompanied by the Chilean-bred Jaleo, Seabiscuit went into action at the three-sixteenths pole and went the first furlong in :11 2/5. He was timed the quarter in :24 3/5, the three furlongs in :35 and a half mile in :48 4/5. At the end of four and a half furlongs, which was the five-eighths pole, Jaleo began pulling up. As Seabiscuit continued alone, he began to loaf, whereupon [jockey George] Woolf roused him with his whip, after which the horse went more willingly and had something left in the later stages. He was timed the five eighths in 1:02, three quarters in 1:15, mile in 1:39 2/5 and the mile and a furlong in 1:53 2/5”

Amazing when you consider this was just three days before his race with War Admiral, where he completed the 1 3/16 in a track record time of 1:56 3/5.

On October 28th, the “Here and There on the Turf” column had this:

“Although interest in the forthcoming special is immense, the vast majority of horsemen and experts are inclined to the belief that War Admiral will be the winner. Many of his partisans even are very sure the son of Man o’ War…will never leave the issue in doubt…Nearly everyone believes the Howard horse will have War Admiral to catch, as the latter is a natural front runner and Seabiscuit has run his best races by coming from behind. With nothing to run with him early, War Admiral is considered to have a distinct advantage.”

Also of note from the “Here and There on the Turf” column, the author indicated a sense of relief that all the talk of Seabiscuit and War Admiral was near an end.  He wrote, once the much anticipated race finally was run, it would “…lessen the amount of publicity given both horses, as so many persons…are quite ready to talk and read about other thoroughbreds and matters of racing.”

Those who read Laura Hillenbrand’s book or saw the movie, know that trainer Tom Smith worked with Seabiscuit to respond to the starter bell and get immediately in front of his foe to eliminate the advantage that most of the pundits saw for War Admiral when handicapping the race.  Proof of this opinion can be found in the six public handicappers in the DRF who all chose War Admiral:

Selections from the Daily Racing Form for race six at Pimlico, November 1, 1938

And finally, here is a quote from the article published the day after Seabiscuit’s surprise victory:

“Whether Seabiscuit broke War Admiral’s heart, the world probably will never know, but through that final furlong the little brown colt literally told his adversary — ‘You’re the best horse, go ahead and claim the glorious victory that is rightfully yours.’ And with that War Admiral shortened his stride as Seabiscuit was driven out to his four lengths triumph.

“Although he had been the outsider, Seabiscuit was genuinely applauded as a great winner as he was slowly brought back to the saddling enclosure to be affectionately greeted by his owner and pal, the veteran Tom Smith.”

Enough of my favorites, if you have some time to kill, enjoy all of the articles from the DRF archive on the great match race of 1938. As I said at the beginning, Laura Hillenbrand’s book is excellent but nothing compares to reading these first-hand accounts:

Spectacular workout by War Admiral — October 24, 1938

Seabiscuit in Brilliant Speed Display at Pimlico — October 25, 1938

Spencer, War Admiral-Seabiscuit Footing Referee — October 27, 1938

Here and There on the Turf — October 28, 1938

Seabiscuit in Long Trial for Pimlico Special — October 28, 1938

Here and There on the Turf — Oct 29, 1938

Weather Forecast Favorable for Tuesday’s Match — Oct 31, 1938

Seabiscuit-War Admiral Meet Today — Nov 1, 1938

Pimlico Special Conditions — Nov 1, 1938

Records of Contestants — Nov 1, 1938

Pimlico Selections — Nov 1, 1938

Here and There on the Turf — Nov 1, 1938

Past Performances — Nov 1, 1938

Seabiscuit Triumphs over War Admiral — Nov 2, 1938

Here and There on the Turf — Nov 3, 1938

War Admiral ships from Pimlico — Nov 4, 1938


Becky Ryder from the DRF Project also mentioned in her comment that the project received some modest funding to keep it going until June but they are still in need of additional funding. They are hoping to raise the funds to hire a dedicated Project Manager. Information about donating to this important project can be found at:

If anyone knows the author of any of these articles from the DRF, I’d love to know. I found it frustrating that none have bylines.

It occurs to me that this is the third article I have done on Seabiscuit-War Admiral this year so it’s about time to retire the subject for now — that is until the next Rachel A-Zenyatta match is announced.


Filed in Daily Racing Form Online Archives,Seabiscuit,thoroughbred racing history,War Admiral

3 Responses to “Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral from the DRF archive, 1938”

  1. I love those 1 3/16 mile workouts! Those were the days…were us real horsefans born 50, 60, 70 years too early???

  2. RG says:

    Once again a reminder of the dumbing down that past performances took at the DRF in 1960. After the June 29th race anytime Menow, Busy K or War Minstrel was entered you would have know that War Admiral finished 4th to them that day. If that race had taken place anytime after 1959 you wouldn’t even know that War Admiral had been in the race. Just a little additional info that could possibly help with the handicapping especially with horses in the lower echelons.

    July 30th against War Admiral how much weight did Isolator carry? First time I’ve ever noticed the weight to a fraction.