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The Match Up

Warning: this essay has something in common with this guy.

There are many reasons that the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral is arguably the most famous horse race in US history.  It isn’t just because the American public was feeling really lousy about themselves and needed a boost.  It isn’t merely because everyone felt abused by big money and abandoned by their leaders.  It isn’t really because Seabiscuit was such a friendly guy or his owner was so charismatic.  It is because the result of that race was an upset.  A result like that is not to be expected.  Usually, the big fancy champion beats the smaller less spectacular champion, regardless of the quality of their respective back stories.

But there might have been a way of predicting the outcome of that race.  Most race horse breeders and owners look at pedigrees.  So I will do the same to determine if someone could have predicted it that way.

War Admiral boasted the closest genetic tie to Man O’ War he could have before the age of cloning, without being a twin. Man O’ War was a very big deal, the big deal of big deals in race horse pedigrees.  This gave many the sense that War Admiral was somehow born better than others. As an individual, War Admiral was considered a fine athlete and was also extremely large, much larger than most of the competition.

War Admiral's pedigree

Since horse racing is not so popular anymore, I will draw an analogy to hockey.  War Admiral had a lot in common with the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks.  Of that team, it has been said that “this great, young, confident and brash team” is steamrolling through the playoffs.  War Admiral did his share of steamrolling too.  He won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year, casting a shadow over all the competition.

Further analysis of War Admiral’s pedigree shows that it was not all it was cracked up to be.  His mother’s name was BRUSHUP,  and her father’s name was SWEEP. Being closer to Brushup than Sweep suggests there was room for improvement. I don’t see a broom here, just BEN BRUSH, so I don’t know how he was supposed to do the sweeping.  Also, his grandmother had a funny name: MAHUBAH.  It means “may good things be with you.”  “May” is a little wishy-washy, hardly an edict of good fortune.

ANNETTE could be an asset, sounding like “a net.” HASTINGS is a law school in California. By East Coast standards, it is no doubt considered an upstart. It also sounds “hasty,” like presumed superiority based on something flashy. FAIRY GOLD doesn’t exist, ROCK SAND just wrecks your skates. (Ask the Flyers’  equipment crew.)

A MERRY TOKEN is nothing but a fleeting moment of jollity, like a giggle from a nincompoop. Not sure what a PINK DOMINO would be useful for, unless you hang it from your rear view mirror to make yourself look silly. A HARRY HEREFORD is an unspectacular thing. A BATHING GIRL may be desirable in the eyes of many but she is not particularly useful during a competition.

War Admiral beat everyone in his league, earning a reputation as being untouchable, unbeatable, the finest, shiniest thing ever.

Unlike the Blackhawks, War Admiral was from the East.

Seabiscuit was older, and a generation removed from that source of all victory, Man O’ War. But they were connected by HARD TACK, a gritty name if I ever heard one.  He needed that grit.  He suffered severe injury and had to come back from it, though few expected him to.  He also got a late start in serious racing.  No one respected him or treated him like a winner.

Seabiscuit's Pedigree

For purposes of consistency, I will say that Seabiscuit was sort of like the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers.  They too have been plagued by injuries, and were barely able to make it into the conference finals, coming off a season described at points as a “tailspin.”  Seabiscuit spent a lot of time getting mud kicked in his face.  The Flyers changed coaches mid-season, Seabiscuit changed trainers mid-career.

Where War Admiral had the well-wishing grandmother, Seabiscuit was separated from the funny name by “TEA BISCUIT.”  That is a tangible, useful thing, and yummy. Go a step further and the sissifying influence of a tea biscuit was somewhat mollified by the words “TEA’S OVER,”  which could mean “get back to work.”

His mother was named SWING ON, which I will take in the baseball sense of continuing to swing the bat, keep at it, carry on, persist.  Persistence is a good thing.

Seabiscuit has ROCK SAND too but he’s been there, done that. Also, Seabiscuit had a WHISK BROOM, where War Admiral had only instructions to sweep. Not sure who wins that battle, the one trying to sweep or the one with the broom? Doubts may be put to rest by the addition of a BROOMSTICK.

Where War Admiral had Annette, Seabiscuit had BALANCE. In case you don’t know what that means, it is translated a generation back into French: “BALANCEOIRE.”  Thus, twice balanced, Seabiscuit was impervious to lop-sided odds.

Seabiscuit’s rebellious nature might be attributed to RABELAIS, his great grandfather.

“Rabelais sings the praises of … the eat, drink and be merry lifestyle of … the giant Pantagruel and his friends. Despite the great popularity of his book, both it and his prequel book on the life of Pantagruel’s father Gargantua … were condemned … for their unorthodox ideas and … for their derision of certain religious practices.” (from wikipedia)

That bit about the giants jumps out at me.  But keep in mind, the influence is Rabelais, not Pantagruel or his father Gargantua. Those guys were fictional buffoons. Rabelais was a rebel, protected by the King whose friends found Rabelais amusing. Rabelais had a problem with strict adherence to the rules, but he didn’t end up in prison so clearly he knew how to tread the fine line between rebel and outlaw.

His dying words were said to be: “I have nothing, I owe a great deal, and the rest I leave to the poor.”  He spent it all, held nothing in reserve.  He also wrote: “it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us.” Rabelais would obviously back the underdog.

As, it would appear, should the AUDIENCE.  Clearly Seabiscuit had more grit and less sparkly fluff in his makeup than War Admiral.  Anyone could have guessed who would win the race.

Unlike the Flyers, Seabiscuit was from the West.

But the planet has tilted. If that match race occurred in 2010 as a hockey game, the east-west balance would be reversed.  The western team is now the favorite. The eastern team is considered by many to be an interloper in the Stanley Cup Finals. Plagued as they were by injuries and a long struggle to earn a place in the game, I don’t think anyone could draw a parallel between the Flyers and War Admiral. By any rational measurement, Seabiscuit would root for the Flyers.

FAIR PLAY is expected of all.

So will the Stanley Cup Finals  fizzle out in a glow of tedious predictability, or will history repeat itself?  Will the Flyers fall to what has been called a “lean, mean hockey machine,” or will they defy the odds and knock the Hawks off their high horse?  Many hockey fans find it difficult to root for the Flyers, they have never been the league’s darlings.  All the more reason to back them now.  A lot of us are in want of a champion for the spirit.  We need this.

match race

For actual hockey talk on the matter, go to Phil Sheridan: Rejects got the Flyers where they are

Thanks to The Orange Crush for pointing me thatta way.

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