For the obvious reasons, it’s hard to draw a big crowd when you’re 98 years old.
But Jim Seabeck, thoroughbred breeder, owner, occasional trainer and regional livestock mogul, attracted nearly 200 people and a horse to his funeral mass Friday in St. Augustine Catholic Church. His rich, full, adventure-packed life came to an end March 9 in Spokane, his home since 1964.
Seabeck, a St. Augustine’s parishioner for a quarter-century and a legend in Pacific Northwest cattlemen’s circles, was a horse-racing giant as well.
Perhaps a symbol of a dying age, Seabeck was remembered as a straight-shooter, a robust man of his word with big blue eyes, a big white hat, a thirst for Scotch, great enthusiasm and a sense of the big picture.
Seabeck was a native of Rockville, Neb., where he was an all-state running back. Before he was 20, he was in the livestock business to stay.
And, for sports-page readers, he put up big numbers. In 2009, he estimated he had bought or sold more than 8.8 million cattle, sheep, hogs and horses. He said his race horses won 672 races in 13 states and British Columbia.
Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean once said “If you can do it, it ain’t braggin’.”
In 2003, Seabeck told Tacoma News Tribune columnist John McGrath about the afternoon in Southern California, where he had watched Seabiscuit win the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap.
“After watching Seabiscuit that day,” he said. “I knew I had to own a race horse.”
In 1947, Seabeck ran his first winner at Longacres, the Seattle-area track. In 1953, Ocean Mist, a former $700 yearling he owned with Phil Carstens, his stockyards partner, rallied from last place to win the Longacres Mile. In 1954, their unbeaten 2-year-old gelding, Better Not Bet, won both the Washington (Longacres) and Spokane Futurities.
Hope Line, Charity Line and Better Not Bet, all standouts as 2-year-olds, were Seabeck’s best-known runners at Spokane’s now-extinct Playfair Race Course. Hope Line won the 1968 Spokane Futurity. Charity Line won it in 1971 and compounded the feat by winning both the Spokane Derby and the Playfair Mile to claim Horse of the Meeting honors as a 3-year-old in 1972. As recently as 2006, Charlie’s Pride, owned in partnership with Gene Barber, won the Portland Meadows Mile.
Seabeck’s late wife, Novia, was the Spokane track’s leading owner in point of earnings in 1968. He claimed the title, thanks to Charity Line, in 1972.
In 2001, the Washington Horse Breeders Association made Seabeck, an original member and former president, an honorary life member. The Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame presented him with its 2010 lifetime achievement award. He served on the Washington Horse Racing Commission from 1993-99.
Although Seabeck loved cattle and horses and found time to back a pair of successful restaurant chains, he loved travel and fishing almost as much. For decades, he maintained a salmon-fishing sanctuary on Big Bay, British Columbia. In recent years, he regularly fished for marlin off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
He is survived by his second wife, Mary, and four daughters.
At Friday’s service, cattleman Clint Miller remembered Seabeck as his longtime friend, a fishing buddy, businessman and a go-getter.
“He had a lot of things he wanted to do,” Miller said. “And he did it.”