Horse who played Seabiscuit in Oscar-nominated film dies age 24

  • A thoroughbred who starred in the 2003 Oscar-nominated film Seabiscuit has died from colic aged 24.

    Popcorn Deelites, one of seven horses to play the racehorse, died at Old Friends, a thoroughbred retirement farm in Georgetown, Kentucky, where he has lived since he retired in 2005.

    The farm’s founder and president Michael Blowen announced the gelding had died on 23 January owing to “complications from colic”.

    Seabiscuit was written and directed by Gary Ross and was based on the 1999 non-fiction book Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. The film, starring Toby Maguire as jockey John “Red” Pollard, follows the career of Seabiscuit in the United States during the Great Depression. It was nominated for multiple awards including seven Oscars, two Golden Globes, and a Screen Actor Guilds Award.

    Seabiscuit became an unlikely champion after he failed to win many of his early starts. When the gelding was assigned to a new trainer, Tom Smith, and paired with jockey Red Pollard, he began tasting victory. In 1936 the trio won the Scarsdale Handicap in New York, and the following year won California’s most prestigious race, the Santa Anita Handicap. In 1937 he won 11 of his 15 races and was the year’s leading money winner. When Red was injured in a fall from a different horse in 1938, jockey George Woolf took the reins, and rode Seabiscuit to victory against Triple Crown winner War Admiral. Seabiscuit was retired in 1940.

    Popcorn Deelites, known as “Pops” appeared in numerous scenes throughout the film, including the famous race against War Admiral. Following filming Pops returned to racing for owner David Hoffman and trainer Pricillia Leon. During his career he had 58 starts, 11 wins and earnings of $56,880.

    Jockey Gary Stevens, who was inducted into the United States Hall of Fame for his racing achievements and played rider George Woolf in the film, remembers his equine co-star fondly.

    “Popcorn Deelites was a star in Seabiscuit,” he said. “He was my go-to guy in all the big scenes. He not only won real races multiple times, but he won the famous match race playing Seabiscuit.

    “He was kind, fast, and a great friend that lived out his life at Old Friends in the paddock next to my other buddy, Silver Charm [Gary’s 1997 Kentucky Derby winner]. RIP, Popcorn.”

    Michael Blowen added Pops’ Hollywood history made him an “enormous fan favourite”.

    “But what really won people over was his warm personality and friendly demeanour. Fans adored him and he adored the fans,” he said.

    “He will be sorely missed here on the farm, but I’m sure that his old pal and paddock mate, Special Ring, will miss him the most.”

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