Updated on 11/03/2016 3:18PM

‘Seabiscuit' author Hillenbrand coming for Breeders' Cup

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David Mackintosh
Laura Hillenbrand, with Chris McCarron (right) and Nick Clooney, participated in a panel this week called "Racing at the Movies."

ARCADIA, Calif. – Laura Hillenbrand first found fame as the author of a book on horse racing, but that doesn’t mean you’ve seen her kicking around the racetrack lately.

“I haven’t been to the races since 1990,” said Hillenbrand, whose “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” has sold millions of copies since its publication in 2001. “And the last big racing event I attended was the Preakness won by Deputed Testamony in 1983.”

Those long droughts will end Saturday when Hillenbrand and her fiancé, David Mackintosh, attend the 33rd Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. Hillenbrand, who now lives in north-central Oregon after spending most of her life in the Washington, D.C., area, said they have seats just two rows from the top of the grandstand and that she expects to get “a thrill of a lifetime” when the $6 million BC Classic culminates a full day of drama.

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Hillenbrand, 49, said she accepted an invitation from retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron to be part of a panel called “Racing at the Movies” at an event conducted by Thoroughbred Owner View this week at Santa Anita. On the drive down from Oregon last week, she stopped by the Northern California town of Willits, where Seabiscuit is buried in a secret grave on the ranch where owner Charles Howard once ruled.

“There’s a huge statue of Seabiscuit in the front of the property, just like at Santa Anita,” said Hillenbrand. “I laid one of the shoes he wore in the match race with War Admiral on the grave for a few minutes, along with a couple other gifts I brought. It was all very moving for me.”

Seabiscuit was one of the most inspirational stories in racing history. A foal of 1933, he won 33 of 89 races during the Great Depression for Howard and his two trainers, Tom Smith and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. He was the 1938 Horse of the Year in the United States.

Hillenbrand said her ongoing battles with chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis) have precluded her from being physically active for much of her life, and a proclivity for vertigo means she cannot take an airplane anywhere. That partly explains why she has been absent from a racetrack for so long.

“I’ve been feeling a lot better lately, which is why I decided to come,” she said.

“Seabiscuit” was made into a movie in 2003, with jockey Gary Stevens as one of the stars. There are no hard figures on book sales, but Wikipedia says Seabiscuit and another Hillenbrand title, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” have combined to sell 13 million copies.

Hillenbrand also won Eclipse Awards in 1998 and 2001 for articles she wrote about Seabiscuit.