War Admiral Match Race



My thanks to the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association for sharing the photo, from their collection of the match race trophy and the original Howard Seabiscuit silks

The Pimlico Special
of 1938 is considered the greatest sporting event in American history.
Janice Romanowski contributed this delightful article describing the legendary match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. It was  written by one of the great
journalist of our time - Grantland Rice
as it appeared in the Baltimore Sun papers in 1938

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The credit for this photo 
has been lost in time.  
Our thanks!          


6th race Program page
The Jockey News
(with permission)


George Woolf galloping Seabiscuit before winning the 1938 match race over War Admiral at Pimlico.

The photo of Seabiscuit and George Woolf 
on the right is the property of Bill Boniface, retired racing writer for the Baltimore Sun. 
It is used here with permission of the Jockey News.

 --  Grantland Rice  --

The drama and melodrama of this match race, 
held before a record crowd keyed to the highest tension I have ever seen in sport, set an all time mark.

     You must get the picture from the start 
to absorb the thrill of this perfect autumn day over a perfect track. As the two thoroughbreds paraded to the post there was no emotional outburst. The big crowd
was too full of tension, the type of tension that locks the human throat.

     You looked at the odds
 flashed upon the mutual board--War Admiral, one to four, Seabiscuit two to one. 
Even those backing War Admiral, 
the great majority of the crowd, felt their pity for the son of Hard Tack and Swing On [Seabiscuit], who had come along the hard way 
and had churned up the dust of almost every track from the Great Lakes to the Gulf, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

     After two false starts,
 they were off. But it wasn't the fast-flying War Admiral who took the lead.
 It was Seabiscuit, taking the whip from Woolf, who got the jump. 
It was Seabiscuit who had a full-length lead as they passed the first furlong. 
The Admiral's supporters were dazed as the 'Biscuit not only held this lead but increased it to two lengths before they passed the first quarter.

     The 'Biscuit' was moving along as smoothly as a southern breeze.
 And then the first roar of the big crowd swept over Maryland. The Admiral was moving up. Stride by stride, Man o' War's favorite offspring 
was closing up the open gap. 
You could hear the roar from thousands of throats
 "Here he comes, here he comes!"

     And the Admiral was under full steam. 
He cut away a length. 
He cut away another length as they came to the half-mile post--and now they were running head and head. 
The Admiral looked Seabiscuit in the eye at the three-quarters
but Seabiscuit never got the look. 
He was too busy running with his shorter, faster stride.

     For almost a half mile they ran as one horse, painted against the green, red and orange foliage of a Maryland countryside. They were neck and neck--head and head--nose and nose.

     The great Admiral had thrown his challenge. 
You could see that he expected Seabiscuit to quit and curl up. 
But, Seabiscuit has never been that brand of horse. 
I had seen him before in two $100,000 races at Santa Anita, boxed out, 
knocked to his knees, taking the worst of all the racing luck--
almost everything except facing a firing squad or a machine-gun nest-- and yet, through all this barrage of trouble Seabiscuit was always there, 
challenging at the wire. I saw him run the fastest half-mile ever run at Santa Anita last March, when he had to do it in his pursuit of Stagehand.

     So, when War Admiral moved up on even terms 
and 40,000 throats poured out their tribute to the Admiral, I still knew that the 'Biscuit would be alongside at the finish. 
The 'Biscuit had come up the hard way. That happens to be the only way worth while. 
The Admiral had known only the softer years--
the softer type of competition. He had never before met a combination
 of a grizzly bear and a running fool.

     Head and head they came to the mile. 
There wasn't a short conceded putt between them. It was a question now of the horse
 that had the heart. 
Seabiscuit had lost his two-length margin. 
His velvet  had been shot away. He was on his own where all races are won-
down the stretch. He had come to the great kingdom of all sport--
the kingdom of the heart.

The Admiral had shown his reserve speed. 
From two lengths away he was now on even terms. 
But as they passed the mile post with three-sixteenths left--the vital test--the stretch that always tells the story--where 40,000 looked for the fleet War Admiral 
to move away--there was another story. 
Seabiscuit was still hanging on. Seabiscuit hadn't quit. With barely more than a final furlong left, the hard-way son of Hard Tack must have said to the Admiral-- 
"Now, lets start running.
 Let's see who is the better horse."

     Foot by foot and yard by yard,
 Woolf and Seabiscuit started moving away. Charlie Kurtzinger 
gave the Admiral the whip. 
But you could see from the stands that the Admiral suddenly knew he had 
nothing left in heart or feet to match this crazy five-year-old who all his life had known only the uphill, knockdown devil-take-the-loser route, 
any track--any distance--any weight--any time. 
And who the hell are you?

     War Admiral had no answer. 
Down the final furlong the great-hearted 'Biscuit put on extra speed. 
He moved on by. Then he opened a small gap. Forty thousand expected the Admiral to move up, close the gap again. 
But the Admiral was through. He had run against too many 
plow horses and platers in his soft easy life.
 He had never tackled a Seabiscuit before.

     He had never met a horse 
who could look him in the eye down the stretch and say to him, in horse language,
 "Now let's start traveling, kid. How do you feel? 
I feel great. This is down my alley."

     Yard by yard Seabiscuit moved on ahead. 
Then it was length by length. Seabiscuit left the Admiral so far behind 
that it wasn't even a contest down the stretch. War Admiral might just have well be chasing a will-o-the-wisp in a midnight swamp. 
He might just as well have been a fat poodle chasing a meat wagon. 
He had been outrun and outgamed--he had been run off the track by a battered five-year-old who had more speed and heart.

     The race, they say, isn't to the swift. 
But it is always to the swift and the game. It so happened that Seabiscuit 
had these two important qualities in deep abundance. 
War Admiral could match neither flying feet not fighting heart. Man o' War's brilliant son hung on with all he had until it came to the big showdown--
to the point when the hard-way thoroughbred, 
the horse from the wrong side of the track,
 began really to run.