EquiSearch Exclusive: Seabiscuit Author Chat

Seabiscuit opened July 25, 2003. Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, was our guest for a live chat, sponsored by JeffersEquine.com. Read the edited transcript.

Equisearch: Thank you for joining our live chat with Laura Hillenbrand, author of the betstselling book Seabiscuit: An American Legend, sponsored by JeffersEquine.com.

Kalina: Hello, Laura, aloha from Hawaii!

pasonotti: Howdy from Texas, Laura!

Laura: Hi everyone. Welcome and thank you for coming.

gabjones: Hello from Southern Pines, NC!!

theking: Hello Laura. Hola desde Puerto Rico.

Equisearch: Please feel free to begin asking questions at any time.

Cyberfinge: Hello from Pennsylvania.RiggsGC: . . . and Colorado!

pasonotti: Have you ever had horses of your own?

Laura: Yes, I grew up with horses. My family had a farm and took in horses that other people didn’t want.

ruffian1: How is your health these days? We all think you are remarkable! Laura: Thank you! My health is iffy. I’m doing moderately well, considering how busy I am. But I need a vacation!

gabjones: Laura, why were you interested in writing a book about Seabiscuit?

Laura: I felt that I had come across the greatest underdog story in American sports history. It was a largely untold story. That was my principal reason for writing this book.gabjones: How did you “come across” it?

Laura: In 1996 I was looking through some racing documents when I came across some information about the men around Seabiscuit. I became intrigued.

reefynaz: On one of your recent interviews you mentioned that as a little girl you dreamt of Seabiscuit. That’s a nice dream!

Laura: Yes it was. I remember it well!

reefynaz: Had you heard of him as a child? That’s just so neat!

Laura: When I was 7 I read a children’s book called Come On Seabiscuit.

pasonotti: Are you pleased with the outcome of the movie, or did they take too many liberties with your book?

Laura: I am very happy with it. Gary Ross, the director/screenwriter, was very faithful to his subjects. I think people who loved my book will love the movie.

pasonotti: That is great!

theking: Laura, does it takes a lot of time to write a book such as Seabiscuit?

Laura: It took me four years to write Seabiscuit. It was immensely hard work, but very enjoyable work.

equineldy1: I didn’t realize it took so long!

Kalina: Maybe you should come to Hawaii. Did you have the opportunity to approve the book jacket?

Laura: I was initially unhappy with the publisher’s choice of jacket covers, but we were trying to appeal to a general audience and to stress that this was a story about people. To exclude the horse’s head I think we were able to attract readers who would have been turned off by a horse story.

pasonotti: The cover on the book I have shows half the head.

Kalina: I have not finished the book yet, but saw the movie. I thought the actors were great. I thought the cover should have the horse’s head; it’s as much about the horse as the people in it…

pasonotti: You should come to Texas and write a book about my Paso Fino. LOL

Cyberfinge: Did you have much input into the movie?

Laura: Yes I did have input in the movie. I was a consultant. In the year in which Gary Ross was writing the screenplay he and I were on the phone almost constantly. We discussed the story as well as casting.

Tucker1: Are there other horses and their stories that inspire you?

Laura: A lot of horses inspire me. I have a lot of favorites, including Dr. Fager, Alysheba and Easy Goer.

pasonotti: Do you like the actors they chose for the roles?

Laura: Regarding the casting, I thought it was perfect.

simon: Did you have any idea that your book would become such a blockbuster and become a movie?

Laura: I knew it would become a movie because I sold the movie rights before I wrote the book. But I had no idea that it would be the success that it has been. RiggsGC: Hats off to your persistence!!

theking: thanxxx laura

Tucker1: Did you have a contract to write the book before you undertook the 4-yr project?

Laura: Yes, I did have a contract.

pasonotti: Is this your first book?

Laura: Yes, it is.

railbirdie: Laura, do you ever think that racing can be as popular as it once was? If not, why not?

Laura: Racing is growing rapidly in popularity. I don’t think it will ever enjoy the popularity it had in the 1930s. There are many more professional sports today than there were then. But I think racing’s future is rosy.

jpv: Hi Laura,I’m Pete from Canada, I own a race horse and I can’t wait to see Seabiscuit…are you planning to write another book…say on John Henry??

Laura: jpv, if my health allows, I will write another book. My next book will probably not be about a horse topic.

pasonotti: Oh poo! We horse folks thirst for more horse stories.

Cyberfinge: Will you be out signing your book? If so, do you have a website that lists your schedule?

Laura: I don’t have any upcoming signings. I do have a website. It is http://www.seabiscuitonline.com. All of my appearances are listed there.

ruffian1: Will you be appearing at any premieres?

Laura: I have appeared at some screenings in Washington, D.C. The only remaining screening on my schedule is a private fundraiser.

gabjones: Laura, what do you think of today’s horseracing industry?

Laura: The racing industry is doing pretty well financially and it has a great product. I am optimistic about its future.

LilAbbyLou:] Laura, I have to tell you: My friend and I bought your book at the airport. She never reads, but read your book in no time flat.

theking: Did you know anything about horses before writing the Seabiscuit story that gave you a hint on how things really are when talking about horse business?

Laura: I had written about the horse industry and racing for 10 years prior to starting my book. I have also been around racetracks since I was a kid.

theking: I hope you can reach all your goals on a timely basis and wish you luck and good health as well!!!!

Kalina: Laura, my father used to talk about Seabiscuit, and named one of our horses after him, calling him The Biscuit. I don’t think anyone could have played that part better than Jeff Bridges did, he was just outstanding.

Laura: Kalina, I agree about Jeff! He researched the part with me very extensively, and I thought he was perfect in the film.

ruffian1: Are you still writing for EQUUS? I remember seeing your byline there over the years.

Laura: Since my book came out I have only written one or two pieces for EQUUS. I have not had the time, but I will write more for them in the future.

equineldy1: I would love to see a story on Secretariat–you would be wonderful at that, too!!

Kalina: I think so too…

Laura: Thank you–that is flattering. I think Secretariat’s story has already been told in the best possible way by Bill Nack. Bill’s book is called Secretariat: The Making of a Champion.

equineldy1: Thanks, not sure if I have read it…I will make a hit at the library tomorrow!

pasonotti: Have you ever heard of a horse from the past called Silky Sullivan? He intrigued me as a child. He was a come-from-behind horse, if I remember correctly.

Laura: Yes, I have heard of Silky Sullivan. Silky was a classic come-from-behinder. He won one race after trailing by 25 lengths on the backstretch. He was not a great racehorse, but he was spectacular to watch.

Kalina: Laura, was most of your research done on the Internet?

Laura: No, the Internet was a useful tool, but most of my research was in newspapers, magazines, books and interviews.

Kalina: Wow, how did you find the newspapers, magazines, and be able to reach the people for interviews? That was so long ago…

Laura: I found my sources in many different ways. I requisitioned many different newspapers from the Library of Congress. I had the personal scrapbooks of the Howard family. I bought newspapers and magazines off eBay. I made heavy use of library collections.

Kalina: Well done, Laura! A thorough job, as shown by the end result.

railbirdie: Laura, do you think that yesterday’s greats like the Biscuit, Slew, Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, etc. were better horses than today’s stars? I have to admit I never saw Cigar race. I do know that the one or two times he lost he walked into the winner’s circle.

Laura: Racing has not seen an all-time great horse since Cigar. In my mind, though, Cigar was a fairly significant step down from the great horses of the 70s.

railbirdie: Thanks for the answer. I’m sorry I missed the 70s. I was too busy being a disco baby…

Stoney: Most horses today get retired to stud way too early to prove themselves as a great horse.

quartermoo: A friend of mine told me about your book. I really loved it. What an exciting writer you are.

railbirdie: It would be amazing if young people started going to the track. I love how “Blind Date” sends couples to Santa Anita and Hollywood Park for their dates.

Laura: I am optimistic that the movie Seabiscuit will create many new young racing fans.

railbirdie: I hope so, too. That would be a great gift. I go to Belmont (now Saratoga) every weekend and everyone there is older.

equineldy1: I agree!

simon: Did Funny Cide’s unlikely background remind you of the Seabiscuit story?

Laura: Yes! Both horses have strong underdog elements to their stories.

equineldy1: I was hoping for a Triple Crown winner this year!

railbirdie: Laura, I read your recent story in The New Yorker and cried for you. Mostly because you are so brave. You go, filly.

Laura: Thank you. That was a very difficult story to write.

BiscuitFan: What is the number-one piece of advice you can give to aspiring writers?

Laura: Read great writers as much as you can. The best way to learn how to be a writer is to read.

BiscuitFan: Thank you, Laura…That process began with your book.

lochness: Laura, just want to say thank you for such an inspiring book. I watched a 1-hour show on the making of the movie and it left me with constant goose bumps (horse lovers I’m sure can relate).

railbirdie: How do you feel about tracks opening on-site casinos? Purses sure get fatter, but …!

Laura: I don’t know what to say about on-site casinos! You’re right, purses get fatter but it’s depressing to go to a racetrack and see fewer people watching these gorgeous animals run while so many sit at the slot machines.

railbirdie: Even at tracks where there aren’t slot machines, like Aqueduct, you see so many gamblers who won’t take their eyes off the monitor when the race is being run right in front of them. They’re not there for the horses but for the money. But of course that’s what keep tracks going.

Stoney: Laura, this is great… I’d like to say that I thought Seabiscuit was the best piece of non-fiction that I’ve ever read… it’s excellent. And it gives a beautiful understanding of how horses can be so special to non-horse people… Did you write it with the non-horses folks in mind?

Laura: Stoney, thank you for the compliment! I tried to write the book in a way that would initiate the uninitiated into the fascinating world of the racetrack without being condescending to insiders.

Stoney: Laura, you’re most welcome, it’s an honest compliment. And you succeeded marvelously. This is a book that I can recommend to anyone, regardless of their horse experience. It speaks to everyone. You didn’t write a book, you told a story and you did it wonderfully!

Laura: Thank you so much!

jpv: Laura we need more “hype” to get people to go to the races to appreciate the horses and the competition…not just the gambling..that’s why we need more of what your book and movie is providing ..one more book please!!

Laura: I may well write about racing again. I think for my next book I want a change of subject, but it doesn’t mean that I have abandoned writing about racing.

ruffian1: What was your most touching or exciting interview for the book? I realize some folks have died since.

Laura: A very old man named Sonny Greenberg was a major source and he spoke to me while bedridden with heart failure. He told me decades of stories. Sadly, he died before he could see the book.

railbirdie: For fans dying for another great racing story, there’s also Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven. It’s a few years old. A novel.

equineldy1: I just started it the other day…

railbirdie: Laura, I hope you don’t mind the recommendation….we fans can’t get enough!!

lochness: I hope the movie will inspire people to discover what we horse people know as the most magnificent animal ever created.There’s nothing quite like a horse with heart.

equineldy1: I hope the movie does as well as the book!!

RiggsGC: The book/movie has the Colorado horse & non-horse community at an all new high. What an education it will be for the non-horse population!

pasonotti: Where did they find the horse to play Seabiscuit?

equineldy1: I was curious about that too!

Laura: A total of 16 horses played Seabiscuit and eight played War Admiral. They had different horses trained to do different things that reflected Seabiscuit’s personality. For example, one horse liked to lie down a lot. There was another trained to look unruly to portray Seabiscuit before Tom Smith found him.

railbirdie: Why do you think today’s horses aren’t as good??? Are they overbred, overmedicated, or what…?

Laura: I think horses are not bred for soundness anymore. In addition, heavy use of therapeutic medication has enabled horses with congenital problems to succeed and their success has made them more popular as sires so those traits are passed down. I also think that trainers are not of the caliber that they used to be, with some noteworthy exceptions.

railbirdie: Whoa! So that means that weakness is being bred in. That’s awful. It’s greedy.

Alydion: You got that right! Plus these horses are run as babies!

railbirdie: Yes, I saw a maiden filly break down in her first race. It broke my heart. I still think about her.

REMosher: I could never understand the concept of “Ok, this horse didn’t do well at the track – we can ALWAYS breed her.” They just perpetuate the problem – breed the ones that ARE successful; but if they are mares then the Jockey Club will have to get on track with everyone else and consider allowing AI and embryo transfers to still reproduce and race at the same time. TBred breeding seems so self-defeating that way, it’s sad…so many break down.

Alydion: Many breakdowns could be avoided by not having the most elite and richest races so early in their lives.

Laura: On the subject of breeding unsuccessful mares, Seabiscuit’s mother, Swing On, was a poor racehorse, as was Secretariat’s mother, Somethingroyal.

REMosher: Then they must have been “SomethingElseSpecial” 😉

equineldy1: Isn’t that something…guess you never know…kinda like people…

Kalina: Maybe they just had poor trainers.

REMosher: Maybe trainers with no skill and patience – it takes a lot longer to bring a horse up in training and keep him/her sound – I think they try to get them “earning their keep” too fast and too young.

jpv: Some champion mares have turned out to be poor producers… its a lot of “calculated luck”…Laura, if you’re going to Saratoga please take a day to come up to Canada’s Saratoga- Fort Erie Racetrack. It’s only a short drive to our border!!

Cyberfinge: Are you familiar with “eventing”? It is a horse sport which had to fight to stay in the Olympics. Thank you for your book, which will create many new horse lovers. We need them to keep horse sports alive.

Laura: Yes, I am familiar with eventing. It is an extraordinary sport.

ruffian1: If not horses, what will be the subject of your next book?

Laura: I am keeping my next book’s subject a secret!

Kalina: I am telling everyone on my canoe-paddling crew to go see this movie; Seabiscuit can be a great inspiration to us.

railbirdie: Laura, are you feeling better and if so do you plan to get out to Laurel or Pimlico soon?

Laura: I am hoping to get out to Laurel or Pimlico this summer. I haven’t been there in a long time.

Alydion: The thing that surprised me was that Seabiscuit died at what we would consider a young age today. Did they ever find out which tree he is buried under?

Laura: Charles Howard kept Seabiscuit’s burial site secret. He told only his son. Only a few members of Howard’s family know where it is, and they intend to keep the secret.

Alydion: Thanks for replying, Laura. I guess I had hoped that some new light had been shed on his final resting place. But then – maybe it’s better this way.

pasonotti: They don’t want to erect a statue for him? Couldn’t they just put up a nice fence around the grave and a statue?

Kalina: Your book is an amazing and well-deserved success.

tbman: Laura, great job of writing to reach and touch all levels of racing and non-racing fans. Thoroughly enjoyed it!!

Alydion: Fabulous story. Seabiscuit will be my once-every-10-years trip to the movies!

railbirdie: Laura, do you think the “old boy’s network” is intact in racing?

Laura: I don’t know what that means!

REMosher: Laura, I also want to thank you for your “Love and Loss” article in EQUUS–it moved me immensely and really helped me when I lost my own beloved Arab mare.

Laura: I’m so sorry you lost your mare. I’m glad my article helped you. People often don’t understand that losing a horse can hurt as much as losing a person.

REMosher: Thanks 🙁 I still miss her, but I have her daughter – and she grieved right along with me.

Alydion: Arabs are super.

jpv: Laura… the slots have saved the track where my horse runs, but it’s the off-track parlours that are keeping a lot of patrons from the live product…like I mentioned, we need more reasons for the general public to want to experience the thrill of watching the most honest of all athletes do what they do.

railbirdie: I hope everyone in this chat room brings friends to the track who have never been. I do that and have helped create a few new fans. Laura can’t do it all herself! 🙂

jpv: Slots have their place ..we need families to want to come to the races..make it fun and inexpensive..volume ..and your book/movie a is long overdue shot in the arm for racing.. I hope they don’t screw it up!!

Alydion: Then you need tracks that are easier to get to, like the old country fairs. Won’t pay much but will stir up interest. I remember sitting on the hood of a car in SC to watch horses run.

pasonotti: It must have been fun to watch the filming and see all those different Seabiscuits.

Laura: I was not on the set although I was in contact with the movie’s creators throughout the project and my boyfriend has a small part in the movie. He is the man who rejects Seabiscuit as a foal, saying, “Get rid of him.”

pasonotti: Okay, I will look for your friend when I see the movie. He must have had fun.

ndstetson: Hello from ND! Looking forward to seeing the movie…

pasonotti: This was sweet of you to do tonight’s chat. You must be so very busy. So… what are you wearing to the Academy Awards?

Laura: I think this film has a great chance of winning Academy Awards! I’ll be cheering it on.

Kalina: Academy Awards, YES!!

pasonotti: How exciting for you, Laura. We will keep our fingers crossed for you.

simon: Thank you so much for talking with us. It’s been great reading your comments.


railbirdie: Laura, do you follow racing day to day, and if so do you have any current favorite horses?

Laura: I do follow racing every day. I am as obsessed with it as I have always been. I’m a Funny Cide fan, but I think my favorite horse is the old white warrior, With Anticipation.

ruffian1: It was wonderful of you to do this chat. I hope EquiSearch can get you back again. Will the next book be fiction or non-fiction?

Laura: For the foreseeable future I plan to write only non-fiction.

equineldy1: Best of luck to you Laura, I hope to see you in writing soon again!!! Thanks for doing this chat!

Kalina: YES, MAHALO from the islands…

ruffian1: Many thanks for the chat. We’ll look for you at the Academy Awards! And on future book jackets.

railbirdie: I want to get my thanks and most fervent regards in before you sign off!

TGStahler: Laura, thank you for your marvelous work of research as well as writing such a riveting story. I’m an avid reader and this will be a forever favorite.

REMosher: I loved Seabiscuit; cannot wait to see it this weekend!

Equisearch: Thank you again for joining our live chat with Laura Hillenbrand sponsored by JeffersEquine.com. Please join us again for future chats!

Laura: Thanks to everyone for coming. Your questions were wonderful. Enjoy the movie!




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