July 22, 2003–According to an AP report, a saddle used by jockey George Woolf to ride Seabiscuit more than 50 years ago was bought 2 1/2 hours after it failed to meet its reserve price at auction.
The Virginia buyer requested anonymity, said James M. Goodman, who brought the collection of racing memorabilia to the attention of the I.M. Chait Gallery, according to AP.
The saddle was the centerpiece of the 372 lots on the auction block Sunday. It was first used on Australian racing legend Phar Lap, whose jockey Billy Elliott later gave the saddle to George Woolf. He considered it lucky and saddled Seabiscuit with it.
According to the AP report, bidding on the saddle during the 4-1/2 hour auction ended at $125,000, which was less than the $150,000 to $250,000 estimate the gallery had placed on it.
Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, bought several pieces, including a shoe worn by Seabiscuit during the famed 1938 match race he won against War Admiral. Hillenbrand paid $13,000 for the shoe.
George Woolf’s riding boots sold for $6,500 and his whip for $5,250.
For many years, the auction items were on display at The Derby, a suburban Los Angeles restaurant near Santa Anita that was owned by Woolf. Seabiscuit raced at Santa Anita in the ’30s and ’40s.
George Woolf, who was known as “Iceman” because of his steely nerves and flawless timing, is considered by many to be the greatest jockey who ever lived. Although he rode on recognized tracks for only 13 years, often accepting fewer than 300 mounts per year, Woolf won 97 major U.S. stakes races at a time when there were far fewer added-money events than today.
Seabiscuit, a Universal film based on Hillenbrand’s book, opens in theaters July 25. The Gary Ross-directed film stars Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper, Jeff Bridges–and six horses who play Seabiscuit. Jockey Gary Stevens makes his feature film debut as George Woolf.