OPENED JULY 25th, 2003 in theatres across the country

FIRST COMMENTS after the July 19 screening in Lexington, KY

“I thought he pretty much stole every scene. He did a terrific, terrific job. I always thought he had a lot of presence and charisma. I’ve seen him do media about his real riding and the camera loves him, he’s so well spoken. I just hope we don’t lose him completely to an acting career.”

National Thoroughbred Racing Association Commissioner Tim Smith on the performance of jockey Gary Stevens in his role as George “The Iceman” Woolf in “Seabiscuit.” Stevens has openly talked in recent weeks of giving up his Hall of Fame riding career in favor of becoming a full time actor

The Universal Studios motion picture based on Seabiscuit: An American Legend is now in production. Created by Larger Than Life Productions, the movie is being directed by Oscar nominee Gary Ross, writer of the critically acclaimed blockbusters Big and Dave and producer/writer/director of Pleasantville. Ross, an avid racing enthusiast, is also serving as screenwriter on the film.


Tobey Maguire, star of Spider Man, The Cider House Rules, Wonderboys, and Pleasantville, is starring as Seabiscuit's regular jockey Red Pollard. Veteran actor Jeff Bridges, star of such films as The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King, and The Big Lebowski, is playing Seabiscuit's owner, Charles Howard. Academy Award winner Chris Cooper (American Beauty, October Sky) is playing Seabiscuit's trainer, Tom Smith. Elizabeth Banks (Catch Me If You Can) is playing Marcela Howard. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is playing jockey George Woolf, while Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron is playing Charley Kurtsinger, War Admiral's jockey.

The movie is being shot at several locations, including Kentucky's Keeneland
Racecourse, New York's Saratoga Racecourse and California's Santa Anita Racecourse. Seabiscuit is scheduled for release on July 25, 2003.

About six years ago, jockey Gary Stevens took home a miniature statue of legendary George “The Iceman” Woolf after being voted by his peers as winner of the annual memorial award given to the rider whose career has brought credit to himself and the sport. Stevens will portray Woolf, whose star-crossed life included victories aboard Triple Crown winner Whirlaway and two-time champion Alsab and a tragic death after falling during a race at Santa Anita Park in 1946, in the movie adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller, Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

There are numerous parallels between the lives and careers of Stevens and Woolf. Both began riding as teenagers in small tracks in the West and later rose to the top of their profession. Woolf obtained the ride on 1938 Horse of the Year Seabiscuit after his friend and the horse’s regular rider, Pollard, was seriously injured. Woolf’s victories aboard Seabiscuit included his legendary romp over Triple Crown winner War Admiral in their 1938 match race. After the victory, Woolf sent Pollard half of his purse winnings.

Both also took strong stands on behalf of the welfare of jockeys. Woolf helped form the Jockeys’ Guild, an organization that Stevens served as president, and both have been inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.

Welcome to Hollywood, racehorse style. This movie straight from the land of make-believe even has a model Seabiscuit, big enough to ride. The Seabiscuit model is for use in scenes where star Tobey Maguire must appear to be riding in a race. The model of Seabiscuit will race alongside the model of War Admiral, both powered by generators and mounted on rails on a flat car set to roll around the Keeneland racecourse. The magic of Hollywood will enable shots of the model racehorses to be interspersed with footage of real horses ridden by Hall of Fame jockeys Chris McCarron and Gary Stevens.

"You won't be able to tell the difference," said Stevens, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner who took acting lessons for this movie.


Call this a Hollywood miracle of special effects. The mounts are modified Equicizer horses of the type jockeys use for fitness exercise. But Hollywood has remade the Equicizer with a more realistic horse head and neck that, like the original, moves and bobbles as would a horse in motion. One recent morning at Keeneland, Stevens climbed aboard one of the Equicizer horses to demonstrate some race-riding moves.

Several Seabiscuits were needed, 7 in all and 8 War Admirals. All are thoroughbreds, except for a few lead ponies and the Palomino Belgian (draft) horse whose role is Pumpkin, Seabiscuit's companion. Most of the thoroughbreds were racing when they were bought, in order to meet important criteria of racing fitness and soundness. There was one more requirement: all the Seabiscuits had to be shorter in stature than the War Admirals, to keep appearances authentic.

One difficult job was matching up the various Seabiscuits and War Admirals: horses had to be paired according to their relative speed. Because Seabiscuit won the match race, a horse playing his character could not be matched for a racing scene with a War Admiral who was a lot faster.

Each movie "take" of a racing scene is no farther than two furlongs, or one-fourth mile. But a take might have to be repeated twice. If more takes are needed, another equine double is pulled in to keep individual horses from being over-raced. Hence the need for so many horses.


Though Stevens never had acted, for many years he'd felt a kinship with Woolf, a memorable figure whose passion for telling the truth was as remarkable as his horsemanship. "The Iceman" was only 36 when he died in 1946 after a spill at Santa Anita, where a statue of him stands in the walking ring. Each year racing writers vote to present the George Woolf Memorial Award to the jockey who has been a credit to his profession. Stevens won it in 1996, one of his top honors in a Hall of Fame career.

Admiring someone is one thing, but could he bring back to life on the big screen a man who died 17 years before he was born? Stevens wasn't sure.

"I was very intimidated by the idea of acting, to say the least," he said. "But what made me feel more comfortable was that I was a fan of George Woolf. I had my 25th birthday party in his old apartment above the Derby Restaurant [near Santa Anita], and I really felt like I knew the guy."

To prepare Stevens for his first role, the film's producers sent Stevens to Palo Alto, Calif., to work with Larry Moss, the acting coach for Maguire and Tom Hanks. The plan was for Moss to counsel the rookie in three five-hour sessions to see how much work would be needed. Yeah, the articulate, handsome athlete looks the part, but can he play it?

"The first night, we just sat and talked," Stevens said. "The next night, we read through the script together. I hadn't gone through it before with anyone, just read it by myself.

Halfway through the script, Larry was very pleased and he told me, "You're ready."

Even after being called a natural by a show-biz expert, Stevens still was edgy. So was the star, Maguire, though for different reasons. After bulking up for the title role in "Spiderman," the 5-8 Maguire wondered how he ever could look like the scrawny, battered Pollard.

"Toby held up a picture of Pollard and said to me, 'I don't look anything like this guy,' " Stevens said. "I told him, 'Don't worry, you will.' After Tobey lost 28 pounds, his eyes were sunken back in his head and he looked like Pollard did.

"The real hard part for him was gaining back the weight quickly because they started shooting 'Spiderman II' six weeks after we finished 'Seabiscuit.' "

Stevens and Maguire became close as they helped fill in each other's gaps. "Tobey was intimidated by the riding scenes, and I was intimidated by the acting scenes," Stevens said. "I was able to give him confidence, and he was able to do the same for me."