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Horse Racing During The Great Depression

During a time of great hardships, Horse Racing was a get away for most americans to feel alive again.
by

Brianne Reese

on 23 March 2011

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Transcript of Horse Racing During The Great Depression

Horse Racing During the Great Depression Winning or Losing The Derby saw wagering plummet during the 1930s, as many people lost jobs, savings and homes. With fewer discretionary dollars, the amount wagered on the Derby and for all Derby Day races fell in 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1933.
Wagering was not a casual decision. The Courier-Journal described a scarce number of bettors in line in 1932. The Sport The Depression era saw great popularity for the Derby, three Triple Crown winners and an expansion of horse racing in general. But still signs of the depression were still shown in the 1930s. There were fewer nominations of horses to the race — indicating that owners felt pinched and might not have been willing to pay entry fees to enter. The Derby’s purse fell from $50,000 to $37,000 during the Depression years. A Whole New Game Against this somber background, horse racing in America — and the Kentucky Derby in particular — still saw great change.

In 1931, the first international radio broadcast of “The Run for the Roses” was transmitted to England. And radio brought the race home to more people in the states, too, who had previously been without electricity.

As Laura Hillenbrand noted in her Depression-era tale Seabiscuit, horse racing’s dramatic action was suited to narration, and it found a perfect conduit through the radio.

There were physical changes to Churchill Downs as well. A stall machine, a kind of precursor to today’s starting gate, was used to start the Derby in 1930.

The presentation area where Derby winners are led immediately after the race was first used in 1938, which also marked the debut of a tunnel under the track that extended from the grandstand to the infield.

The first Derby glass specifically produced as a souvenir debuted in 1939, a year after mint juleps were served in tall water glasses rather than paper cups. The Best of the Best Equipoise One of the first horse-racing stars of the
1930s, Equipoise (1928-1938) first attracted
notice with his Keene Memorial Stakes
win at Belmont Park in 1930. Unlikely victories were Equipoise's specialty - he was late out of the gate at the Pimlico Futurity that year, even leaving two of his shoes behind in his rush to catch up, but still beating out Twenty Grand and Mate for a first-place finish. He returned from injury after a hoof crack ended his two-year-old season and severely curtailed his three-year-old season (in which he raced only three times); his four-year-old season saw wins at the Metropolitan Handicap, Stars and Stripes Handicap and the Whitney Stakes, plus a world mile record.

Continuing hoof problems shortened a brilliant career, but his son Shut Out came within a hairsbreadth of a 1942 Triple Crown victory (he won Kentucky and Belmont), rendering a fitting tribute to this horse's bloodied-but-unbowed greatness. The history of horse racing during this period can, in part, be told as the story of Man O'War's descendants.
Of no one is that more true than of Seabiscuit, grandson of that legendary Thoroughbred and son of Man O'War's talented but excessively ornery offspring Hard Tack (for whom Seabiscuit was named - Seabiscuit being another name for the tough bread known as hardtack). Initially scrawny and lazy, Seabiscuit changed hands several times and posted a solid but unremarkable three-year season (five wins out of thirty-five starts), but under owner Charles S. Howard and trainer Tom Smith the horse developed a fierce will to win that would make him both lucrative and, for spectators, inspiring.

With steadily increasing imposts, Seabiscuit still managed a run of five stakes wins during the summer of 1937, even after a devastating early-season loss to rival Rosemont (due to jockey Red Pollard's never-admitted blindness in one eye, which caused him not to see Rosement creeping up in the home stretch).

He finished the year with 11 wins out of 15 races, and was the most lucrative horse on the track for this sixth year of the Depression; the horse's up-then-down-but-never-out record captured the American imagination (and, consequently, earned boatloads of money for owner Howard, a savvy merchandiser). All was set for the match of the century - between Seabiscuit and his uncle War Admiral, another Man O'War descendant and the previous year's Triple Crown winner.

Just when no greater accomplishment seemed possible for this legendary horse, Seabiscuit spent the years 1939-40 recovering from an injury some had deemed career-ending - this time with his original jockey Red Pollard in the saddle. (Pollard had had to give up Seabiscuit's reins to George Woolf after a near-fatal 1938 accident.) In 1940 the once-injured horse and returned-from-the-brink-of-failure jockey won the Hundred Grander stakes race, the only major stakes race for horses in Seabiscuit's age range that the horse had not yet won.

He sired 108 foals in his well-deserved retirement. But as befits a legend, Seabiscuit's gravesite is a secret - only the Howard family knows where his corpse is buried. Meanwhile, the horse's impact on American hopes was celebrated in the 1949 movie The Story of Seabiscuit (starring Shirley Temple), in Laura Hillenbrand's bestselling 2001 book, and the Oscar-nominated film of 2003 that Hillenbrand inspired. War Admiral Match of the Decade Seabiscuit Like an Ali-vs.-Frazier, Superman-meets-Batman level of hype greeted the
matchup between the two Seabiscut and War Admiral, which took place on
November 1, 1938, at a packed (40,000 spectators) Pimlico Race Course.
War Admiral entered the race heavily favored, with 1-4 odds and heavy press
support. After all, not only was his record more consistent, he had a lightning-fast start
(all-important in a head-to-head race) and good health.
But trainer Tom Smith had a trick card up his sleeve - he'd been secretly training
the usually smooth-beginning, strong-finishing horse to explode from the gate.
Seabiscuit took an early lead, which War Admiral ate into and even, for a brief period,
erased, before a blazing finish took Seabiscuit to a four-length victory over
1937's Horse of the Year. THANK YOU!!!
Enjoy the Rest of Your Time! A star with East Coast racing fans (just as Seabiscuit's most fanatical following could be found in and around California), War Admiral, who matched his famous father in temperament (touchy, to say the least) but not in size (War Admiral was smaller and more compact than Man O'War, though he is played in the 2003 movie Seabiscuit by a Clydesdale-sized bruiser), won not only 21 of 26 starts during 1937, but spent the early part of 1938 winning major races up and down the East Coast.
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