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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 06:44 GMT
A racing cert
By Frank Keogh

Sport can be an uncomfortable subject for Hollywood - the film flops far outweigh the truly memorable movies.

REEL LIFE DRAMA
Tobey Maguire stars as Seabiscuit's jockey
A cinema brochure draws parallels between Seabiscuit's era and modern racing
Horse: Then - Seabiscuit
Now - Persian Punch
Jockey: Then - George Woolf Now - Frankie Dettori
Trainer: Then - Tom Smith Now - Henrietta Knight
Owner: Then - Charles Howard Now - Highclere Racing

But a gamble taken by horse racing's rulers on the blockbuster equine epic Seabiscuit could pay dividends.

They hope the true tale of a down-at-heel horse that triumphs against the odds in Depression-hit America will help attract a new audience to the sport.

The story of Seabiscuit, his difficult trainer, a half-blind jockey and an owner with his own troubles is being tipped as an Oscar contender.

It opens nationwide in the UK on Friday to a series of favourable reviews, although some critics found the nags to riches tale a little too sugary.

Now the British Horseracing Board (BHB) is hoping the sport can benefit from the feelgood factor after teaming up with film-makers for a joint promotional campaign.

The organisation sponsored the glitzy London premiere, which raised money for three racing charities, plus the after-show party.

A special two-for-one offer will result in filmgoers being offered admission vouchers for race meetings, with racing fans given the same deal to watch the movie.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Seabiscuit's sire was Hard Tack (a biscuit favoured by seamen), whose dam was Tea Biscuit

The BHB became interested in the project in February, five months before the film was out in the United States.

Marketing director Chris John told the BBC Sport website how the relationship came about.

"Generally, filmgoers are younger than racegoers and it was a chance to promote racing to the next generation, bringing new people into the sport," he said.

"We are hoping they will jump on the wave of enthusiasm. It helps make racing look so exciting, glamorous and fun.

"We rook a risk. We hadn't seen the film, and didn't know it was going to be a success.

"There's no sex, no gratuitous violence and no bad language in the film. It's just a great story, a true story, and shows a sport that many people don't fully understand - there is a depth in racing that no other sport, in my view, has."

SEABISCUIT STARS
Tobey Maguire
Jockey Red Pollard
Jeff Bridges
Owner Charles Howard
Chris Cooper
Trainer Tom Smith
These guys are warriors - their lives are very taxing
Tobey Maguire on jockeys

Spider-man star Tobey Maguire plays the part of Seabiscuit's regular jockey Red Pollard while real-life American rider Gary Stevens is his friend and rival, George 'Iceman' Woolf.

Maguire lost nearly three stone in weight for the role and got an insight into the strenuous lives of jockeys who face a battle with the scales and the danger of riding at high speed.

"I have so much respect for what they do - they are very, very tough professional athletes," said Maguire.

A booklet aiming to demystify the complexities of racing has been produced by the BHB and will be available at cinemas.

It likens stars of the film with modern-day characters - Woolf being compared to Frankie Dettori, for example.

Dettori was at Seabiscuit's star-studded premiere and hopes the film can produce new recruits to racing.

"Horse racing is a fantastic world and this might open a few eyes. I'm sure they will appreciate what our sport is all about," said the flamboyant Italian.

Seabiscuit grossed more than $120m in the States - and Stevens reckons it boosted racecourse attendances there by five per cent.

Whether the same happens in the UK remains to be seen, but in terms of marketing the sport, it looks a sure-fire winner.

  • Seabiscuit is released nationwide in the UK on Friday 7 November.





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