September 14, 2020
Seabiscuit (2003)
Grade: 71/100

Director: Gary Ross
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper

What it's about. A biopic on Seabiscuit, the all-time money-winning racehorse at the time he retired to stud in 1940. Seabiscuit is the little horse with a checkered past whose career is turned around thanks to horse whisperer and trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), scrappy jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), and understanding businessman owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges).

The early lives of Howard, Smith, and Pollard are established. Howard loses his young son in a tragic accident. His wife leaves him, but he soon marries again, to sweet-as-sugar Marcela (Elizabeth Banks).

Howard, Smith, and Pollard are united via Seabiscuit, who becomes a champion racer. Despite occasional setbacks, Seabiscuit earns a one-on-one race with Triple Crown winner War Admiral. Pollock is seriously injured and is temporarily replaced with another jockey, George Woolf (Gary Stevens). Seabiscuit is also injured, but both horse and jockey recover to triumph again in another big race.

How others will see it. A box office success, Seabiscuit was also a favorite of critics. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. It lost in all categories.

Today at, the movie has a respectable 66K user votes and a fairly high user rating of 7.3 out of 10. Women over 45 grade the film highest, at 7.7. The user reviews typically focus on the film's feel-good story. Against all odds, Seabiscuit is a winner, and so is Tobey Maguire, and Chris Cooper, and Jeff Bridges, and Bridges' trophy wife Elizabeth Banks.

How I felt about it. Seabiscuit is fairly authentic, but changes have been made to the true story for dramatic purposes. The most obvious is that William H. Macy's wacky Seabiscuit-obsessed radio announcer is a complete fiction. There never was a Tick Tock McGlaughlin.

Much is made of the size disparity between War Admiral and Seabiscuit, to create a David versus Goliath story. But apparently, the two horses were similar in size. Also, War Admiral's owner appears anxious to duck a head-to-head encounter with Seabiscuit. This is strictly fictional. In real life, they had been schedule to meet a few times before in races with other horses. On two of those occasions, Seabiscuit was the one to get "scratched" due to injury.

The film implies that Seabiscuit had a humble pedigree, but Seabiscuit, the "people's horse", was owned by a very wealthy man and was War Admiral's nephew. Man O' War was the father of War Admiral and the grandfather of Seabiscuit. Man O' War was regarded as the greatest race horse of all time prior to Secretariat, losing only one career race out of 21, as a two year old by a neck to a horse named Upset. You can't make this stuff up.

Seabiscuit is said to have had a poor career before his purchase by Charles Howard. But in truth he won nine races (and set a track record at Narrangansett) before Howard acquired the horse, on the advice of his trainer upon seeing Seabiscuit win a race. Seabiscuit ran "in the money" in almost half of his races as a two-year old.

Charles Howard dumped his first wife for a much younger woman, but the film makes it look like the first wife went psycho from grief. Howard did lose his teenaged son, but he also had three other children, who never appear in the movie.

Red Pollard was blind in one eye, but he never informed either Tom Smith or Charles Howard. Because he would be fired, and would be unemployable once word got out. Red Pollard's injury came while racing Fair Knightess for Howard, instead of doing a favor for an old friend. George Woolf rode Seabiscuit in nine races, not just once.

One scene in the movie has Pollard exchanging pleasantries with a fellow jockey during a race while Seabiscuit is about 15 lengths behind the pack. In the actual race, Seabiscuit was apparently never further behind than second place.

The story has Tom Smith choosing Red Pollard as the jockey for Seabiscuit because both are abused and ornery. I understand that such scenes are supposed to be amusing. I still don't buy it.

One also suspects that the severity of the injury to Seabiscuit is exaggerated for dramatic purposes. Pollard's injuries were not. He appears to have led a hard life despite his auspicious youth spent memorizing classic literature.

But none of these embellishments to the story significantly hurt the film. Gary Ross was the director and sole credited screenwriter, and he did direct Big, some 15 years before. Here, Ross was helped by a generous budget (a whopping 87M) and the best cast any producer could have hoped for.