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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Bert Sugar

Aired July 25, 2003 - 20:53   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A movie about horse racing breaks from the gates today. "Seabiscuit" is generating a lot of buzz, and not just because Hollywood insiders think it will be in the home stretch come Oscar time. People who like a long shot are betting that "Seabiscuit" could revive public interest in horse racing. After all, when was the last time you went to the track?
Joining me this evening, sportswriter Bert Sugar. His latest book is "Horse Sense: An Inside Look at the Sport of Kings." Nice to see you. Good evening.

BERT SUGAR, AUTHOR: My pleasure being here.

O'BRIEN: You're a boxing guy. What are you doing writing about horse racing?

SUGAR: I'm a sports guy. To me, when I grew up, I had three sports -- baseball, boxing and horse racing. They were the three major sports. And horse racing sort of has come from a major sport down to underneath the shipping news. It's a niche sport. And I think this movie has a good chance as it is running to the winner's circle on its own of having horse racing go along for the ride.

O'BRIEN: When you were researching the book, what was the most surprising thing that you found?

SUGAR: The trainers. I think they're the most underreported, underestimated and underappreciated people in racing. These are the people who from the time they show up in the morning, which is way before the crack of dawn, I'm up at the crack of ice, they get up at the crack of dawn, and all the way through the day they have so many functions. They have more sides and things to do than really I can tell you. All the way down to lifting the jock onto the horse, because he doesn't use stirrups unless he spooks the horse with too much weight, and giving him his last minute instructions, then going back to the barn and preparing for the next race.

O'BRIEN: They're the ones who do it all?

SUGAR: Everything.

O'BRIEN: You have said that you think that this movie, "Seabiscuit," will revive interest in horse racing. But do you think when you look at Funny Cide and also now the movie we're going see the sport move from the sport of kings to the sport of regular folks? SUGAR: There has been that moment before. In the book, "Horse Sense," I have an example of then president of the United States, U.S. Grant, Ulysses Simpson, U.S. Grant shaking hands with Jesse James, whom he thought he recognized at a track. James was going under the names James Edwards, which was his first two names. Basically it has always been the most democratic of sports. There are people there from all stripes. And I think this will help.

But where it is going to help most is in the 20 years -- or 30 years since the Secretariats and the Seattle Slews, and the Affirms and the Aladars (ph), horse racing sort of didn't promote itself. And the audience got grayer. It's people at the track where somewhere between Social Security and death.

O'BRIEN: Current interest changes all that, you think?

SUGAR: Yes. But now you have movie fans who are younger. So it has a chance to green the sport. And this picture puts them in the saddle. I think they're really going to love the sport, yes, the picture, and, yes, the fascination with horses.

O'BRIEN: I have been told that you do an incredible impression of a jockey trainer, which, of course, you say is the most fascinating thing about the sport. Want to do it for us?

SUGAR: A jockey trainer. A jockey trainer basically is the most harried looking person in the world. He has got the owner on his back and the jockey in his hands. And he stands there and goes, I just wish I were somewhere else, and he wishes he were in the winner's circle. And they're not all Bob Bafferts (ph), but when they get a winner, they are -- and that's what this picture is. And that's what -- by Chris Cooper, watch him.

O'BRIEN: Wonderful actor.

SUGAR: He is a horse whisperer. It is magnificent. And he is the old time trainer. He doesn't have to go and he won't go.

O'BRIEN: It's nice to have you in to talk about the movie.

SUGAR: My pleasure.

O'BRIEN: And also about your book. Thank you so much.

SUGAR: Thank you for this. This is fun.

O'BRIEN: Likewise.

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