ST. PETERSBURG — The duel between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, two of the greatest racehorses in history, has lived up to its billing in 1938 as the "match race of the century."
Charles Schick helped break both legends as yearlings. As a teenage exercise boy, he taught Seabiscuit to accept a bridle, then tried to get the underachieving colt interested in racing.
A year later and working for a different stable, Mr. Schick played a similar role for War Admiral, a horse that needed no encouragement to surge to the front.
Mr. Schick, who worked his way from stable boy to trainer during some of horse racing's peak years, died Feb. 11. He was 98 and had lived in St. Petersburg since 1982.
He was one the last people still living in 2015, if not the last, to work with both horses.
Though Seabiscuit and War Admiral both descended from the immortal Man o' War, their temperaments could not have differed more.
Mr. Schick met Seabiscuit in 1934, when the horse out of Wheatley Stable arrived on a rail car.
"Seabiscuit looked like a mustang coming out of the West," he said in a television interview following the publication of Laura Hillenbrand's 2001 bestseller, Seabiscuit: An American Legend. "I had to keep after him all the time."
At the time, Mr. Schick was working as an 18-year-old exercise boy at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens, N.Y. In a 2003 interview with the Times, he described Seabiscuit as "a little different."
"You liked Seabiscuit for his temperament because he was so lackadaisical, like he didn't care if tomorrow came or not," he said.
Mementoes from Mr. Schick's 20 years in horse racing line the walls of his St. Petersburg home. His identification cards for New York and Florida racetracks show a babyfaced boy in 1933, an athletic teen in 1935 and a young man sporting a fedora in 1936.
There's the laminated and wood-framed 2003 Times feature about his life, and racing programs from 1935 and 1936 featuring either Seabiscuit or War Admiral. The family has saved an article from the same era by International News Service writer Bob Brumby, an ode to "the exercise boys, tiny gnarled men who ride with the sunrise but never hear the roar of the crowd."
Charles Frank Schick was born in Queens in 1916, the son of an awning store owner who lost the business during the Depression. Starting at age 6, he spent his free time at Forest Park in Queens, where he graduated from the merry-go-round to riding horses.
He left school after the ninth grade, by which time he was working as a stable hand at Aqueduct. He was promoted to exercise rider, which boosted his pay to $5 a week.
It was seasonal work. Mr. Schick moved to Glen Riddle Farm in Maryland, where around 1935 he led the regal yearling War Admiral from the rail car to his stall.
"You could just see the class in that horse," Mr. Schick told the Times. "Right away."
War Admiral won the Triple Crown in 1937 and eight major races in 1938. Seabiscuit was sold in 1936 to Charles Howard, and under a different trainer also reeled off a string of wins. By the time of their match race on Nov. 1, 1938, Mr. Schick was not working with either stable.
He listened to the race of the century from a bar in Queens. Like most people, he thought War Admiral would win.
"But you can't take it away from (Seabiscuit)," he said in an interview. "He was a good horse."
In 1942, Mr. Schick married Mary Elizabeth Stephanos. He trained horses and won his share of races, but began to long for steadier work to support his family.
In 1954 he took a job with Air France, working a concession stand at what is now John F. Kennedy International Airport. He rose to manager and later switched to Eastern Airlines. Mr. Schick retired in 1981 and moved to St. Petersburg the next year.
He was a regular at Tampa Bay Downs, especially the Saturday morning question-and-answer sessions with trainers and jockeys.
"Mr. Schick would come out here, and he always enjoyed it because of his background and he enjoyed meeting new faces long after he retired," said Mike Henry, a spokesman for Tampa Bay Downs. "It's just kind of incredible he was on both horses. I can't imagine there is anyone else left."
Mr. Schick downplayed his role in horse racing history.
"I wouldn't say that actually I was that important," Mr. Schick told the Times in 2003. "But all I know is, I broke Seabiscuit and I broke War Admiral. And they went on from there."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Andrew Meacham at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.