I decided rather suddenly this evening that I needed to own the movie “Seabiscuit” on DVD, although I’m not sure why a nearly 10-year-old movie about a nearly 80-year-old horse has been so much on my mind lately. I don’t even like horses!
But as I watched it, I remembered why I love that movie. First, there’s the affable and generous Charles Howard, who bought, rehabilitated and tirelessly promoted this undersized thoroughbred with a champion racing bloodline but very little to show for it before he came into Howard’s care.
Howard and his old-school trainer, Tom Smith, saw the ragged little horse’s potential in his fiery eyes, and they agreed that “you don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a bit.”
This story is all about second chances–for Howard, coping with the tragic death of his 15-year-old son and his wife’s subsequent desertion; for Smith, who fell down and out along with, it seemed, half the nation’s working men during the Great Depression; and Red Pollard, the tall jockey and failed prizefighter with a secret handicap who instinctively understood, as Howard and Smith did, how to bring out the best from his horse.
Nothing about Seabiscuit or his racing team augured success. Howard tells the press, “We have a horse that’s too small, a jockey that’s too big, a trainer that’s too old, and an owner that’s too dumb to know the difference.” But they have complete faith in one another, and through losses and terrible injuries to both horse and rider, they stick together and they heal. Pollard says at the very end of the movie, “Everyone thinks we found this broken-down horse and fixed him. But we didn’t. He fixed us, every one of us. And I guess in a way we kind of fixed each other, too.”
We live in a world of cheap relationships and quick fixes, and by today’s standards, Howard’s choice to keep Pollard as his jockey despite some close losses caused by jockey error, and to care for him in his own home for months after Pollard is injured, makes no sense at all. Get another warm body up on that horse, move on, keep the money rolling in. But Howard was patient enough and loyal enough to keep the faith that both man and beast could recover and not only race again, but win. “Everybody loses a couple,” he says. “Sometimes all somebody needs is a second chance.”
Seabiscuit was not only one of the greatest racing horses of all time, he was also one of this nation’s greatest heroes at a very dark time when we needed heroes badly. And he was able to become that because good people believed in him.
Indeed, we all lose a couple. Some of us lose a lot more than that. But even the most unprepossessing among us can still hit a winning stride if we keep the faith in ourselves and in one another, and we keep showing up to run the race.