Vidakovich column: The Biscuit and War Admiral
Near the end of this past summer, I made mention in one of my columns about the two horses and one donkey to whom I would often stop to give treats on my morning runs on the road to the Glenwood Fish Hatchery. About a month ago, I noticed that the older horse that I referred to as Seabiscuit was not with Sherman the donkey or the jet-black horse that I called War Admiral.
When I would get up close to my three buddies this summer, feeding them apple slices, it was easy for me to see that Seabiscuit had been around for a while. He walked to the fence each morning gingerly and well behind the other two. His ribcage showed, and the graying on his head was easy to spot. I always made sure I gave him a few more bits of apple than the other two.
One evening, just after sunset, I was running down the road by the field, and I stopped to chat with Sherman and War Admiral. While I was there, a gentleman whom I often see on the road walking stopped and asked if I had noticed that one of the animals was missing. I told him of course I had and asked where Seabiscuit was.
The words I had feared came out gently in a manner designed not to alarm me, but the sadness hit hard, and it was tough not to show emotion in front of the stranger when he told me that the horse’s owner, Bruce Bowles, had to put him down.
He explained to me that it was a tough day for everyone, since he is a good friend of Bruce. The horse was 32 years old and was in such poor health, it was a sure bet that he would not have made it through the winter. I let him know that I had called the horse Seabiscuit, after the great racehorse from the 1930s. When he told me the real name of the horse was Wiley, I found it ironic, since I had run that same road up to the fish hatchery and above for many years with my friend Bob Willey.
Though my anatomy still suggests otherwise, I am convinced at times that I am part female. The emotion that took control after learning of Seabiscuit’s fate had me fighting back tears during the rest of the journey down the road and to my house.
A few mornings after learning of Seabiscuit’s passing, I sat along the fence near the two remaining animals and looked east toward Lookout Mountain in the early morning light. There’s always a sense of peace following a run, and as I gazed across the river at all the car lights on Midland Avenue filled with Mr. and Ms. Frenzy, in their desperate hurry to go nowhere, I thought of Laura Hillenbrand’s wonderful book about the life of Seabiscuit and all the fascinating people that were associated with the champion horse.
I then looked just down the road into the field at the spot where I had been told Bruce had to lay his friend of 32 years to rest. It must have been a tough day for him and his wife. It’s hard to say goodbye to any loved one.
War Admiral and Sherman are still in the field for me to greet and feed in the mornings, and there are two others named Copper and Seven in the adjacent pasture to whom I stop to give apples and carrots also, so I am still in very good company.
Just so you know, on Nov. 1, 1938, the real Seabiscuit and War Admiral ran against each other in a match race at the Pimlico race track in Baltimore, Maryland, in what is still widely regarded as the greatest horse race ever. ‘Biscuit won that day, and retired two years later as the leading money-winning horse in the world after his victory in the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap.
I wish I could have been there that day to give him some apple slices and say a proper goodbye.
Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer, teacher and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.
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This will be my 500th column — my final column in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.