Saturday, July 19, 2003

Movie excites 'horse country'

'Seabiscuit' scenes filmed in Lexington

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Dell Hancock can remember walking as a child through the Claiborne Farm barn where Seabiscuit grew up.

"Whenever a horse goes on to win a certain amount of money, he got his name put up on the stall door permanently," said Hancock, the public relations director for the Paris, Ky., farm owned by her family. "I remember thinking Seabiscuit was a funny name for a horse."

The barn burned in 1972, and the door that bore Seabiscuit's name was destroyed in the fire. Before this year, many Kentucky race fans might have struggled to remember the 1938 Horse of the Year was foaled at Claiborne Farm. Hancock said many people assume Seabiscuit was bred in California, where he enjoyed much of his success.

But there is no doubt Seabiscuit has become a household name in this city of 260,000 that bills itself as the "Horse Capital of the World."

The buzz is over screenings of the movie Seabiscuit today in Lexington and Louisville, almost a week before the film will be released nationally.

Gov. Paul Patton and those two cities have declared this "Seabiscuit Day".

Some Kentuckians got to play their own role in the filming with scenes shot at Keeneland in Lexington and three central Kentucky horse farms - Calumet, Normandy and Stony Oak.

"I think it should be shown here first," said Lamar Prewitt of Lexington, as he prepared to spend the afternoon at Keeneland, watching simulcasts of races from other tracks. "After all, this is horse country."

His friend, Barry Dicken of Frankfort, bought Seabiscuit shirts for members of his wife's family when the movie was being filmed at the racetrack.

"I don't know that it will have significance until they actually see the movie," he said. "It seems to be a bigger deal here than at a lot of the other tracks."

The movie is based on the 2001 book Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, in which the horse's rags-to-riches tale is told, including how he turned around the lives of his owner, trainer and jockey. It's a book that's difficult to put down, said Frank Atkins Jr., who works in the admissions department at Keeneland.

"It's such a good story," Atkins said. "It's going to be the premier movie about race horses ever made. They've tried to make them in the past, but a few years ago, they didn't have the technology to do them as good as they do now."

One of the scenes filmed at Keeneland depicted the famed 1938 match race at Pimlico in Baltimore between Seabiscuit and 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral.

"I saw enough of what they were doing when they were filming here to know the technical side of the movie will make it worth seeing, just for that," Keeneland President Nick Nicholson said. "They were true to the story."

Many in the thoroughbred racing industry hope to ride the movie's coattails. The Blood-Horse, an industry magazine based in Lexington, compiled a 165-page book, The Seabiscuit Story, which features articles run in the magazine about Seabiscuit since 1935, when the magazine first mentioned the horse. Also included in the book, which took about a year to produce, are rare photos and race charts from some of Seabiscuit's more prominent races.

"It was fun to look at this material and learn about his humble beginnings, and how it took a long time for him to get any kind of respect for being a racehorse," said John McEvoy of Evanston, Ill., who edited the book.

He's as astounded as anyone about the attention the Seabiscuit saga is receiving.

"I don't think anybody can explain it. I know why those of us in horse racing were interested in it. We are in the business. But for the general public to be so interested, I think it's because of the good job Laura Hillenbrand did," McEvoy said.

Keeneland, like other tracks across the nation, hopes to see a rise in attendance as a direct result of the movie, Nicholson said.

"I think what it will do is twofold," Nicholson said. "It will sort of bring back fans that have forgotten how much fun (racing) is, and hopefully introduce the sport to a generation of fans that might otherwise not have tried it."

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