Seabiscuit rides to silver screen, minus Pimlico


Horse Racing

October 20, 2002|By Tom Keyser

Laura Hillenbrand's book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, remains perched for the 59th week on The New York Times best-seller list. It is being translated into 14 languages. And now, the colorful story of the Depression-era racehorse is being made into a movie.

Filming started Monday, and the movie is scheduled for release by Christmas 2003. Hillenbrand, who lives in Washington, has served as a consultant, discussing the rags-to-riches story with the screenwriter as well as the actors.

Jeff Bridges, who plays Charles Howard, owner of Seabiscuit, called Hillenbrand often enough before filming started that his voice on her answering machine would merely say: "This is Jeff ... " For Hillenbrand, author of her first book, the experience has been overwhelming.

"I can't believe it," she said. "The whole thing I can't believe."

Bridges asked whether Hillenbrand could lend him a memento from Howard that he could carry during filming. She sent him a wallet-type folded piece of leather that contains a brass plaque that reads: "The California Highway Patrol extends privileges to Charles S. Howard."

Said Hillenbrand: "I'm so psyched about Jeff Bridges. In talking to him he really gets Charles Howard."

Chris Cooper (the Marine in American Beauty and the father in October Sky) plays Tom Smith, trainer of Seabiscuit. Elizabeth Banks (Spider-Man) plays Marcela Howard, Charles' wife. Tobey McGuire (Spider-Man and Cider House Rules) plays Red Pollard, Seabiscuit's regular jockey.

Pollard, however, did not ride Seabiscuit in his most famous race -- and perhaps the most famous race ever in this country -- the 1938 Pimlico Special, in which Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral in a match race. George Woolf rode Seabiscuit, and Gary Stevens portrays Woolf in the movie. Chris McCarron plays Charley Kurtsinger, who rode War Admiral.

Although the race took place at Pimlico, it will be reenacted next month at Keeneland. Representatives of Universal Pictures, which is making the film, scouted Pimlico. Mike Gathagan, director of broadcasting and communications for the Maryland Jockey Club, said that afterward they told him, believe it or not, that Pimlico looked "too modern."

Standardbred yearling sale

Four days before the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association met to sell its track, the winds of prospective opportunity swirled around Rosecroft Raceway.

On Thursday, the Cloverleaf board of directors voted to sell its harness track to Centaur Inc., the Indiana investment and gambling company that owns a minority share of Hoosier Park. Last Sunday at Rosecroft, the sixth annual Chesapeake Yearling Sale shattered records for gross and average.

Sixty-six standardbred yearlings brought $543,600, an average of $8,236. That average was 64.4 percent higher than last year's $5,011, and 19.9 percent higher than the previous year's $6,870.

Tom Winebrener, sales manager, said he was most pleased with the 19.9 percent increase from two years ago. Last year's sale occurred shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, resulting in deflated prices.

"I would have to say the increases reflected what people viewed as Rosecroft's new opportunity -- through new ownership or slots," Winebrener said. "This will be the first crop that could participate in what lies ahead. There could be better opportunities to make money with these youngsters."

Around the tracks

The 14th annual Fair Hill International Festival in the Country will take place Thursday to next Sunday at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Area in Cecil County. The festival attracts world-class equestrians in eventing and combined driving and presents dog-agility trials, miniature-horse performances and various activities for families.

For the first time the festival will feature a 100-mile endurance race that will take riders and their horses from Fair Hill into Pennsylvania and back again. Scheduled for Saturday, the marathon could last anywhere from 9 1/2 to 14 hours.

On Wednesday, the Texas Racing Commission approved the sale of Lone Star Park to Magna Entertainment Corp. The deal was announced in March. The Maryland Racing Commission will meet at 10 a.m. Nov. 13 at Laurel Park to consider Magna's agreement to buy a majority interest in the Maryland Jockey Club.

Dave Rodman, all-star announcer for the Maryland Jockey Club, will participate Friday in "Announcer's All-Star Day" at Arlington Park. Rodman and six other visiting announcers will each call one race. The next day, the track outside Chicago will conduct the 19th Breeders' Cup, which last year became the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

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