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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Hollywood's year of the horse
By Frank Keogh

A blockbuster movie about the heroics of American racehorse Seabiscuit will herald a string of equine movies - and looks set to boost horse racing.

Seabiscuit stars
Jockey: Red Pollard
(Tobey Maguire - Spider-Man, Cider House Rules)
Trainer: Tom Smith
(Chris Cooper - American Beauty, October Sky)
Owner: Charles Howard
(Jeff Bridges - Fabulous Baker Boys, Fisher King)

The 60m film, featuring Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire and backed by Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks studio, is due for release Stateside on 25 July.

And the nags-to-riches story of an animal that became a hero in the midst of the Great Depression is already being talked about as an Oscar contender.

The Universal Studios movie is based on the award-winning book Seabiscuit: An America Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand.

And the story, which happens to be true, is pure Hollywood.

In summary, a near-mute scrap dealer trained a small horse with crooked legs to beat America's all-conquering Triple Crown winner.

Seabiscuit was ridden by a one-eyed former prizefighter, who once lived in a horse stall after being abandoned at a racetrack as a boy.

Maguire, who played Spider-Man in 2002, stars as jockey Red Pollard.

He has dyed his hair a shade of red and lost more than a stone in weight for the role.

And his lead will be followed by others, with another four horsey movies already planned over the coming months.

Maguire eyes a box office hit
Under orders: equine films
The Young Black Stallion (Sep 26, US) - Disney prequel to 1979's Black Stallion
Hidalgo (Oct 3) - Omar Sharif is sheikh as horse competes in endurance trek
Monkeyface - Planned racetrack con with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas
Mr Ed - Possible new version of 1960s talking horse classic
It may not be quite the golden era when Hollywood embraced racing with movies such as National Velvet, starring Elizabeth Taylor.

For the film-makers, however, Seabiscuit's run is timed perfectly as a new 21st century racing hero gallops onto the scene.

The cheaply-bought Funny Cide, with a veteran trainer, troubled jockey and novice owners, has a growing army of fans in 2003.

On Saturday, he will bid to become the first gelding to win US racing's Triple Crown, if he can claim the Belmont Stakes.

A record crowd of 120,000 is expected at the horse's local track, Belmont Park, just hours after English racegoers have savoured the Epsom Derby.

Bob Curran, spokesman for the US Jockey Club, told this website: "There is great excitement here about the Seabiscuit movie, and Funny Cide makes it even better.

"If he should win the Triple Crown on Saturday, and a month later we have Seabiscuit, then it can't be bad for racing.

"It's not the answer to all of racing's problems, but it certainly has interested a lot of people."

Back in 1938, it was War Admiral who claimed the Triple Crown.

But he lost out to Seabiscuit when the pair faced each other in a head-to-head showdown, followed by 40 million radio listeners, which provides the film's climax.

Filming has been taking place at a range of locations, including racecourses in Kentucky, New York and California.

Thoroughbreds of today star as the horses themselves, and there are roles too for top American jockeys Gary Stevens and Chris McCarron.

Hillenbrand, who is acting as a consultant on the movie despite suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, was recently invited to a special reception at the White House.

The movie trailer proclaims: "In 1938, the dreams of a nation rode on a long shot."

Sixty five years on, it looks a sure bet that this unlikely story will provide another shot in the arm for horse racing.




SEE ALSO
Hillenbrand wins book award
26 Nov 01  |  SOL



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