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Life After Seabiscuit


Seabiscuit, Charles Howard, George Woolf, and Tom Smith after the Pimlico Special
Charles Howard, George Woolf, Tom Smith, and Seabiscuit after the Pimlico Special. 11.1.38. Keeneland Library - Cook Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

The story of Seabiscuit's jockeys Red Pollard and George Woolf, trainer Tom Smith, and owner Charles Howard, did not end when the revered racehorse retired on April 10, 1940. Each of them continued their careers in racing, most of them with success, but not all of their stories ended in the fairytale manner that we'd like to imagine.


What happened to Seabiscuit's Jockey Red Pollard?

Seabiscuit and jockey Red Pollard, as part of an article about life for Red Pollard after Seabiscuit retired.
Red Pollard & Seabiscuit, public domain.

Red Pollard had been riding racehorses for sixteen years by the time Seabiscuit's career came to a close in 1940 and the stressors of being a jockey had more than caught up to him. His body was wrought with injuries; he'd lost the vision in his right eye, had nearly lost his leg in a morning training accident, and was almost killed in a horse pile-up in 1938 that left him with a crushed chest, broken ribs, a broken shoulder, a shattered collarbone, a concussion, and severe internal injuries (A Jockey's Hard Life). Pollard was also tall by jockey standards, standing at 5'7, and thus struggled to maintain jockey weight.


For Pollard, it seemed the right move to retire and spend his time with his wife Agnes Conlon. Pollard met Conlon, a nurse, in 1938 while he was recovering from his broken leg at Winthrop Hospital. The two had fallen madly in love, married in 1939, and had two children.


However, marriage couldn't keep Pollard out of the saddle. He soon returned to racing, but never again reached the heights that he did aboard Seabiscuit. Pollard fell back into the lower ranks of racing and continued to suffer injuries such as a broken hip and a broken back.


Finally, in 1955, Pollard officially retired from riding. The forty-six year old was still unable to keep himself away from the racetrack and took a job sorting mail at the track post office and later worked as a valet, the person responsible for cleaning and prepping riding equipment for jockeys.


Pollard was sent to a nursing home when his wife was hospitalized with cancer in 1981. He died on March 7, 1981 at seventy-one years old; Agnes died just two weeks later.


What Happened to Seabiscuit's Jockey George Woolf?

George Woolf, Hall of Fame jockey and rider of Seabiscuit, for an article about life after Seabiscuit
George Woolf and Seabiscuit, public domain.

George Woolf, a jockey known for his level-headedness and generosity, was lifelong friends with Red Pollard. He picked up the mount on Seabiscuit when Pollard was injured and it was with Woolf in the irons that Seabiscuit defeated Triple Crown winner War Admiral in their famed match race.


Woolf is celebrated as one of the greatest jockeys of all time, a huge accomplishment considering he could only ride about 150-200 races each year as, like Pollard, he struggled with his weight. Woolf had Type 1 Diabetes and had to regulate his weight to preserve his strength. But, unlike Pollard, Woolf had been very successful before riding Seabiscuit and stayed successful afterward, winning many major stakes races through the first half of the 40s.


Sadly, Woolf's disease would ultimately cut his career and life short. The famed jockey self-administered shots of insulin, which were necessary but sometimes made him feel dizzy. On January 3, 1946, he accepted the mount on a horse named Please Me despite feeling ill; he suddenly fell off the horse while going around the first turn at Santa Anita Park and was taken to the hospital with a concussion. He died the following day.


Though there are no official reports on what caused Woolf to fall, many speculate that his insulin had caused him to faint and slip from the saddle. The racing world was shocked at the death of the thirty-five year old and more than 1,500 attended his funeral to comfort his thirty-two year old widow, Genevieve.


Over his career, Woolf won seven hundred and twenty-one races, ninety-seven of those being major stakes races.


What Happened to Seabiscuit's trainer Tom Smith?

Trainer Tom Smith and racehorse Seabiscuit, as part of an article about life after Seabiscuit
Tom Smith and Seabiscuit, public domain.

Trainer Tom Smith was admired by horsemen and racing fans for his work in transforming Seabiscuit into a successful racehorse. He continued to work for Seabiscuit’s owner Charles Howard until the Spring of 1943, when the two parted ways on good terms as Smith had to have back surgery that would take him away from training horses for an extended period of time.


Once he recovered, Smith was hired by cosmetics tycoon Elizabeth Arden to train for Maine Chance Farm. Arden was very pleased with Smith's training methods and the two were a prosperous team.


Unfortunately, in 1945 one of Smith's stable hands was caught spraying a decongestant into the nose of one of Maine Chance Farm's horses. Though the dose of the decongestant was deemed insignificant, The Jockey Club banned Smith for an entire year - a decision that was very controversial at the time. Trainer Roy Waldron took over Smith's job with Maine Chance Farm at the beginning of his suspension and Smith's son Jimmy took over for the remainder.


Smith returned to training for Arden the following year and continued achieving great things with both her stable and other stables, notably conditioning Jet Pilot to Kentucky Derby glory in 1947 and training many horses who earned over $100,000. He officially retired in 1955, the same year as Red Pollard.


Smith suffered a debilitating stroke in 1956 and was sent to live in a sanitarium. He died a few months later on January 23, 1947. Few people attended his funeral.


What Happened to Seabiscuit's owner Charles S. Howard?

Racehorse owner Charles S. Howard and Seabiscuit, as part of an article about life after Seabiscuit
Charles Howard and Seabiscuit, public domain.

Business and marketing guru Charles Howard continued to own a successful stable of racehorses, including Kayak II and the Hall of Fame colt Noor. Still, Howard failed to find a horse he loved as much as he loved Seabiscuit.


Back home at Ridgewood Ranch, just north of San Francisco, Howard would saddle up his beloved racehorse and walk him through the farm's trails. They were the best of friends through the end.


On May 17, 1947, Howard’s wife Marcella told him that Seabiscuit had died of a heart attack. A heartbroken Howard buried his great horse in a private spot on the farm that was marked only by an oak tree. He succumbed to his own heart attack three years later on June 6, 1950. He was seventy-three years old.

 

Seabiscuit was an important part of all of these men's lives. Although their stories may not have begun or ended beautifully, Seabiscuit provided them all with a shared sense of hope, love, and success in the world of horse racing.

 

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