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<i>Seabiscuit</i> Dramatizes Story of Racehorse that Galvanized Americans in 1930s - 2003-07-26

Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Oscar-winner Chris Cooper co-star in a new film based on the true story of a racehorse whose unexpected victories became a symbol of hope during the Great Economic Depression of the 1930's. Alan Silverman has a look at Seabiscuit.

As thoroughbred racehorses go, he didn't appear to be a champion. He was smaller than most; he galloped with an ungainly gait; and, a challenge to trainers, he was relegated to behind the scenes training instead of racing. But it turned out that what Seabiscuit needed was someone to understand him and give him a chance.

"Every horse is good for something. You don't throw a whole life away just because it's banged up a little." That's the theme woven through Seabiscuit. Based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, the film details how, 70 years ago, Americans broken down by the ravages of the Great Depression found inspiration in the exploits of Seabiscuit and the disparate group of people behind his victories.

Each of them was broken in his own way. Jeff Bridges plays the horse's owner, millionaire Charles Howard, whose life was shattered by the death of his young son; Chris Cooper is trainer Tom Smith, a relic of a cowboy who seemed drawn to lost causes; and Tobey Maguire plays jockey Red Pollard, who came through alcoholism and debilitating physical injury thanks to his relationship with Seabiscuit.

"He has a lot of personal stuff to overcome to allow himself to be a part of this team, but he also finds other broken down people and a horse," says McGuire. " Together they were just the right team to succeed. I think during that time it was very pertinent and obviously struck a chord in America. 'Team SEABISCUIT' became such a great example of n-o-t letting the times get you down and you're going to come out of it . . . keep going, dust yourself off . . . and I think that's still a hero today."

Jeff Bridges says that the Seabiscuit story shows how the country once was able to unite behind a true hero: something that may seem almost too good to be true in this era when heroes too often turn out to be flawed.

"You can see by watching a movie like Seabiscuit how people rose to the occasion. I think that's one of the main points of the story," says Bridges. " The world had kind of written off all of the main characters. All of these characters were kind of broken individuals and it kind of tells me that our heroes come up from the most unlikely places and it gives me hope, even in these jaded times we live in, still there can be heroes that come out. That's good to know."

Seabiscuit screenwriter and director Gary Ross says it is important to understand the era in which the story is set, but Ross also believes that Seabiscuit is relevant today.

"He is a great American hero, but I think there are a lot of deceptive reasons. There are better racehorses. Secretariat is a better racehorse. War Admiral is a better racehorse; but Seabiscuit transcended personal limitations," explains Ross. " He rose above personal obstacles. He lost so much, but he didn't see himself . . . or they didn't see him as a loser. They saw the worth in the animal that had lost so much. Just because you lost doesn't mean that you're a loser and I think the reason that the country gravitated toward the horse is he was able to transcend those things. What's so moving to me about Seabiscuit is that it's these three guys and their willingness to help each other and n-o-t accept defeat or their own feeling of brokenness or worthlessness. To transcend those things and rise above them is absolutely the best part of America."

Seabiscuit also features William H. Macy as a fast-talking radio commentator; jockey Gary Stevens makes his acting debut as legendary rider George Woolf; and another champion jockey, Chris McCarron, supervised the reenactment of the historic races.