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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #81
March 04, 2009

Horsing Around With History

Seabiscuit + A Day at the Racetrack

Seabiscuit is the true story of the little horse that could. From The Rookie to Miracle, we all love to root for the underdog...even when the underdog is a horse. Set in Depression-era America, Seabiscuit follows three men, each with a broken life, as they come together to fix a broken horse. As the ungainly thoroughbred began to win, his popularity exploded. Americans sensed a bit of themselves in Seabiscuit, and the whole country gathered around radio sets to listen as he edged out the reigning champion. Seabiscuit galloped into history and was as famous in his day as Tiger Woods is today.

The idea that horses are elite athletes fascinated our kids. Although "the track" had rather seedy connotations in our minds, our husbands were psyched by the idea of a sunny day with the horses and had the kids packed into the car before we could say Post Time. We got to the track at dawn and took a Tram Tour, learning how the jockeys equal out their weights and how the horses are drug tested before and after each race. During a peaceful breakfast at the track, we studied the Race Form, getting up to speed on the horses and jockeys, the owners and trainers. As we tried to explain how the track calculates each horses' odds, we realized we could excuse our day at the races as an extended math field trip! Flush with background history and odds, we scrambled over to the pre-race parade to chose a horse to root for during the race. Then, we flopped down under the midday sun to wait for Post Time. The sound of the crowd, the thunder of hooves, and the catch in our throats as our horse pulled ahead thrilled us all!

Film Title: Seabiscuit
Directed By: Gary Ross
2003, Rated PG-13, 141 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:
  • Why this Film is Worth It: Although it is long, we recommend this film for everyone in the family over the age of eight. It offers an important glimpse into our nation's past and delivers on the thrill of a live race. Several black and white documentary sections are interspersed in the movie. For young viewers, this authentic footage may be "boring." Have them tune in for the final race scenes.
  • Red Flags: The film makes a few references to adult sexuality (a couple dancing, a clothed couple in bed). Watch out for these difficult scenes: Charles Howard's son dies in a car wreck, Red's parents sell him to a horse racer, and Red gets dragged by a horse.
  • COOL FACT: Filmmakers used 10 horse doubles for Seabiscuit. Five horses did the racing, and five were used to act out Seabiscuit's characteristic laziness, playfulness and stubborness.

Our tips for talking to your kids about this film:
  • History Savvy: Adults who get on the couch for this film will have a chance to discuss the Great Depression. A great chance to put grandparents on the couch (or on the phone) to share their memories.
  • Cinema Savvy: To put Tobey Maguire on a galloping thoroughbred would be dangerous for both racehorse and actor. Maguire rode a mechanical horse on a flatbed track during the race scenes, and professional jockeys orchestrated their rides around the truck. Look carefully during the race scenes, especially during the final race, and see if the kids can tell the difference?


A Day at the Races

Time Allotment: All day
Age Recommendation: 6 and up

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:

  • What worked for us: We picked our horses based on the craziest things: the name of the horse appealed to us, we liked the color of a jockey's silk, we caught a glimpse of one of the owners and wanted to root for him. You could study the forms all day to make your picks, since there isn't money involved, be fanciful! Let the kids get right down near the track to hear the thundering hooves. And, definitely visit the winner's circle whether your horse comes in, or not.
  • Teachable moments: Don't worry that your children will become gamblers - this adventure is more about math than wagering. From the price of the purse to the pay-out of a winning ticket, you should be able to find a teachable moment or two.
  • When to go: An excellent adventure for a Monday holiday, as many tracks are open. Dads will definitely join in for this adventure. Racing is a seasonal sport, so check with the track to find the best time to visit. You probably want to go on a day with a small purse, so as to avoid heavy crowds.
  • What to do Between Races: Since the tracks don't cater to children, chances are you'll want to bring in your own food. There can be time between races, so find a place to play tag and relax until the next Post Time.

Our City Editor's tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure all around the USA:
  • Anywhere: It's race season! Check this state by state listing for a racetrack near you. The most comprehensive listing of tracks around the country is... unfortunately, a sports betting site. Click through to see if there is a track near you and click through  for information about when races are run.
  • Boston: Suffolk Downs, one mile north of Logan Airport, opened in 1935.  Two years later,  Seabiscuit treated a crowd of 40,000 to a record setting performance under jockey Red Pollard. In 2003, just three days before the movie opened, a bronze plaque commemorating Seabiscuit's winning race was placed in the Clubhouse entrance.  Avoid traffic and take the Blue Line to Suffolk Downs exit.  Children under 12 are free and Grandstand tickets are $2.00.
  • Houston: Head out to Sam Houston Race Park where live races will begin again in June, but until then enjoy simulcast racing from racetracks all around the world.
  • New York:  Belmont Park  Gates open at 11:00 and kids under 12 get in free with an adult. The Backyard area is a great place for kids to camp out with a picnic while parents can still watch races on TV and wager bets.  Early risers with young children should try Breakfast at Belmont. Enjoy breakfast trackside, watch the horses in their pre-race workouts and take a free guided tram tour through the stables.
  • San Francisco: Travel back in time on a walking tour of Ridgewood Ranch, Seabiscuit's home and burial site in Willits, CA. Tours are about 3 hours long. Not recommended for kids under 5. About a 2 1/2 hour drive from San Francisco.
  • Washington, DC:  Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, the home of the Preakness.  Races are underway, kids under 12 get in free. For a behind the scenes look at the Triple Crown contenders, take a tour of the stables from 6-9am. Admission is free. For something different check out harness racing at Rosecroft Raceway,

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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