Horse Wagering in Pop Culture

Horse wagering in popular culture is a product of the many books, movies and television cartoons that have featured some aspect of horse racing and betting. From Looney Tunes to Seinfeld and from the music of The Band to blockbuster films like 2003’s Seabiscuit, horse wagering has firmly entrenched itself into American pop culture.

Speaking of Seabiscuit, a memorable Looney Tunes reel had Porky Pig riding a horse named “Teabiscuit”. A typical pop culture theme referencing horse wagering might have a character who is down on his luck risking the last of their savings at the race track, putting it all down on one horse. Win or lose, it seems to be an eternal icon of human character – risking it all on a long shot.

Many terms and phrases originating at the race track have entered popular usage, besides the aforementioned “long shot”. Some of these include “shoo-in”, “odds-on favorite”, “dark horse” and “Daily Double”, as used in the long running Jeopardy TV show. Popular musicians, The Band, had a 1970 radio hit with “Up On Cripple Creek”, which tells the story of a wandering scoundrel who visits an old girlfriend and proceeds to take her to the local race track, where “Good luck had just stung me, To the race track I did go. She bet on one horse to win, and I bet on another to show. Odds were in my favor, I had him five to one. When that nag to win came around the track, sure enough he had won.”

“Seabiscuit”, as previously mentioned, was one of the top films of 2003 and was nominated for 7 Academy Awards. The film, starring Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges, recounts the story of the eponymous horse who, pardon the phase, against all odds, achieved both remarkable success on the track and unheard of acclaim from an American public desperately in search of a champion who could lighten the darkest depths of the Great Depression.

Seabiscuit was named Horse of the Year in 1938 won the prestigious Santa Anita Handicap (and its $121,000 prize) in early 1940 before retiring to stud. It’s estimated that Seabiscuit’s 1938 race at Pimlico against a field that included Triple Crown winner War Admiral was watched by 40,000 at the track and heard by up to 40 million on the radio. More than anything else, Seabiscuit’s exploits brought horse racing and horse wagering firmly into American pop culture, where it has remained to this day.