Human Interest

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Mark Davis/AP
The statue of "Seabiscuit" in the paddock at Santa Anita Park in California.

A New Kind of Goodwill Ambassador: Seabiscuit Goes to Iraq

March 24, 2009 09:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
Arabic copies of the novel “Seabiscuit” are being shipped to Iraqi children by a charitable organization run by author Laura Hillenbrand and actor Gary Sinise.

Sinise and Hillenbrand Shipping “Seabiscuit” to Iraq

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Actor Gary Sinise is funding the printing of 15,000 Arabic-language copies of Laura Hillenbrand’s novel “Seabiscuit” to be sent to Iraqi schoolchildren. Sinise and Hillenbrand had previously sent 8,000 copies of the book about a famous racehorse in April 2006.

The Seabiscuit program began after Hillenbrand received an e-mail in 2003 from Marine Col. Michael C. Howard, great-grandson of Charles Howard, Seabiscuit’s owner. Col. Howard, who had helped Hillenbrand in her research for the book, told her that a group of Iraqi girls had enjoyed learning about the book.

“Through an interpreter, he explained to them that it was a famous book about ‘the greatest horse that ever lived,’ and that millions of copies have been printed,” describes the Blood-Horse’s Steve Haskin. “The girls were very impressed to learn that the book was written by a woman, and that some of Seabiscuit’s ancestors were Arabian horses.”

In March 2004, she and Sinise, who had shipped school supplies to Iraq that January, founded Operation Iraqi Children, an organization dedicated to providing Iraqi schoolchildren with school supplies and other educational materials.

“Imagine sending your child to a school in which there are virtually no books, no pencils, no paper, no blackboards,” said Hillenbrand in a news release. “This is the reality for Iraqi children. The future of the Iraqi nation is being squandered for lack of basic school supplies.”

Over the last five years, OIC has shipped over 245,000 school supply kits—which include items such as paper, pencils, notebooks, rulers and scissors—as well as backpacks, toys, shoes, sports equipment and copies of “Seabiscuit” to children in Iraq, Afghanistan and Djibouti.

Background: Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit, the grandson of legendary racehorse Man o’ War, was regally bred, but he had a thick, stubby body and an unusual gait. He had little success as a 2 and 3-year-old, but his fortunes changed in 1936 under Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollard.

He became nationally known in the 1937 Santa Anita Handicap, where he led down the stretch, but lost after Pollard let up too soon. Howard took him to the East Coast, promising, “Seabiscuit will take on all comers and he’ll mow them down like grass.” Seabiscuit moved from track to track, beating anyone that came in his path. In November 1938, he beat 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, son of Man o’ War, in a match race dubbed the “Race of the Century,” securing the status of America’s best horse.

Six weeks after the race, Seabiscuit suffered a leg injury that appeared to be career-ending, but he returned for the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap. Amazingly, Seabiscuit burst to the lead on the stretch-run and held off Kayak II in the final race of his career.

Seabiscuit retired as one of the most popular and beloved racehorses of all-time. Hillenbrand’s “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” became a best seller in 2001 and inspired the 2003 film “Seabiscuit.”

Reference: Operation Iraqi Children

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