Editor’s note: Travis Barrett of Kennebec Journal is ranking his top 10 sports movies of all-time. No. 8 on the list is “Seabiscuit,” a 2003 film about the inspiring thoroughbred race horse of the 1930s starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Tobey Maguire. It can be streamed via Amazon.

The best line in “Seabiscuit” comes only a few minutes in, before we’ve even met the horse who gives the film its name, the trainer who rescues the four-legged hero from certain misery or the oversized jockey whose bond with the horse speaks to anyone with a love of animals.

“It was the beginning and the end of imagination, all at the same time,” the film’s narrator reads, and in that instance the entire 140 minutes that follows makes perfect sense.

Seabiscuit wasn’t just America’s horse, its Little Engine That Could. He was the redemption story an America still reeling from the Great Depression both needed and believed in.

“Seabiscuit,” the 2003 film starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Tobey Maguire, could never match up to Laura Hillenbrand’s tremendous book in terms of detail, organization and historical accuracy of every significant player in Seabiscuit’s life and racing career — but, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t do its best to try.

The automobile industry in the early 20th-century United States was a boon, and with it came an industrial revolution of its own. The assembly line was mastered; and companies were able to dream up anything they wanted to create to sell, given the acute nature with which they could then align their workforce to produce it.


It was, as noted, “the beginning and the end of imagination” all at once.

Then the stock market crashed. Children were ripped from their families. Jobs disappeared. Expendable income vanished.

An America desperate for something to believe in found a horse. Seabiscuit, of course, wasn’t supposed to be that horse — at least on the surface. He wasn’t big. Or sleek. Or especially motivated. He certainly wasn’t a Kentucky Derby or a Triple Crown winner.

He was never given the chance.

He was misunderstood. He was mistreated. He was given up on. He was like every single person in a crumbling American economy who had lost everything they’d believed in when the market finally collapsed.

So when prospective owner Charles Howard, trying to patch up a personal life in turmoil, hooked up with an out-of-work trainer described by others as “a crackpot” and a jockey buried by years of bitterness, booze and blindness, it created the success story a nation — one which still revered sports like horse racing and boxing — craved.


Suddenly, “the sport of kings” was opened to the little people. One didn’t need tens of thousands of dollars to attach themselves to a horse, to invest in a race or to find a victory, which proved something to finally feel good about.

Seabiscuit was more than just a horse handed a second chance. He was the horse who represented the working class — and then took that straight to the face of racing’s blue bloods and obliterated their facade that valued bloodlines and appearances above all else.

Historically, “Seabiscuit” may not be Seabiscuit. At least not entirely. But that’s not what makes the film such a significant one. It’s a time period piece devoted to a changing America — one where the free reign of the Wild West has ended, the Great Depression has crippled society and horses weren’t bred for the Kentucky Derby before being retired.

Seabiscuit raced well into his adulthood, spending years as an underdog sports hero instead of just a few months during his 3-year-old season. He would win races all over the country, the crowds would flock to him, and for two inspirational minutes at a time, he got Americans to forget about what was waiting for them in their bank accounts.

As Seabiscuit’s jockey Red Pollard utters in a moment of hurt and anger near the film’s end, having recovered from a training fall which nearly killed him: “He made me better.”

In that moment, Pollard spoke for an entire nation — one beleaguered and battered by the Depression and all of the fallout from that.

Seabiscuit made us all better. And his story made sports history better, too.

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