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Red Pollard

April 22, 2012
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

There are times when we at the museum are asked to research a person or place for someone. Such was the case earlier this week when we received a letter requesting information on a brick kiln in or near Grundy Center at the turn of the 20th Century. We did find in the 1911 Grundy County Atlas, information on the Grundy Center Brick and Tile Company. Additionally we did learn that the person who started the company, Michael Pollard, moved to Grundy Center in 1870, and founded Pollard Brothers Brickyard with his brother Joseph. What we found of even more interest however, was that Michael Pollard's grandson was Red Pollard. For those of you who are not familiar with the horse-racing world, Red Pollard was the famous jockey who rode Seabiscuit. Here is his story.

John "Red" Pollard was born October 27, 1909, in Edmonton, Alberta. His riding career started out west, riding quarter horses. He grew up in a house where books were prized, and often travelled with volumes of Shakespeare and others. At age 15 he convinced his parents to let him pursue a career as a jockey. He was allowed to leave home with a guardian, and ended up in Butte, Montana.

Pollard stood 5 feet 7 inches, which is considered tall for a jockey. He also had been blinded in his right eye early in his career by a rock kicked up by another horse during a training ride on a crowded track. It hit his skull and damaged the vision center of his brain. At that time few jockeys actually wore helmets to prevent such accidents.

Pollard's riding career was on a one way street downhill when in August 1936 he arrived penniless at a race track in Detroit. There he was introduced to Tom Smith, an ex-frontier mustang breaker. He was also introduced to a crooked legged horse that would become an American legend Seabiscuit.

Prior to being hired by Smith, Pollard had been riding at Thistle Down Park in Ohio, winning two or three races a month, but had gone two years without a stakes victory. But his career was about to take off with Seabiscuit. Pollard and Seabiscuit would become known as the best race and jockey in the United States. All in all Red rode Biscuit 30 times, winning 18 of them between August 1936 and his final start in March 1940 when Seabiscuit ended his career as the world's leading money winning thoroughbred by capturing the Santa Anita Handicap, which was worth $100,000.

Pollard was also famous for the severe injuries that he suffered. In 1938, Pollard suffered a terrible fall while racing on Fair Knightess. His chest was crushed by the weight of the falling horse, and his ribs and arm were broken. He recovered and was working again by that summer when he suffered a compound fracture in his leg from a runaway horse.

Seabiscuit retired in 1940. When World War II broke out, Pollard attempted to enter the armed services, however was rejected. He did however volunteer to work in a defense plant and in 1945 he suffered another injury in a serious spill and was bed-ridden for some time. Once again he beat the odds, and went back to riding, which he did until 1955 when he retired for good at age 46.



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