Horseracing Legend Seabiscuit has Napa Valley Connection
Before he was a grape grower and winemaker, Jim Fresquez of RustRidge Ranch & Winery in St. Helena, trained race horses at Santa Anita & Hollywood Park. Fresquez began as an exercise rider and eventually worked for Petaluma native, M.E. "Buster" Millerick. Millerick, the Hall of Fame trainer who trained Native Diver, the first California racehorse to win a million dollars and the winner of three consecutive Hollywood Gold Cups, was part of the team that trained Seabiscuit, the 1930's racing legend. In 1935, Millerick, an up and coming trainer, was hired by Charles S. Howard to train his racehorses. "Silent" Tom Smith, an insider in the Eastern-racing establishment, was hired by Howard to build a world-class stable. Shortly thereafter, Howard purchased Seabiscuit and Smith took the reins as his trainer with Millerick as his assistant.
In the early 1980's, Fresquez exercised horses for the reclusive, secretive and absolutely regimental Millerick. Fresquez feels Millerick's character was shaped by his experiences with Seabiscuit's celebrity. Millerick continued to train for C. S. Howard and his family after Seabiscuit retired. After Howard's death, Millerick inherited Seabiscuit's trunk containing his saddle, helmet, twitch and whip. On Millerick's death, his widow Martha gave Fresquez the trunk and all of Millerick's tack, medicines, training charts and other items. Fresquez continued to use many of these items over the years for his own stable. In 1990, when Fresquez and his wife Susan took over RustRidge Ranch and Winery, they decided to display these items in the Bed and Breakfast.
In Fall 2002, a guest told them that a special Seabiscuit exhibit was being assembled at the Mendocino County Museum in Willits, near Ridgewood Ranch, the home of Seabiscuit. Early this year, Elaine Hamby, the museum curator, and Herb Pruett, the museum director, contacted Fresquez regarding the Seabiscuit memorabilia. Hamby was able to authenticate the items and asked Fresquez if he would be willing to lend them to the museum. Fresquez loaned the items to the museum for their exhibit. In November 2004, the items were returned to RustRidge.