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Racing into History

Willits Hosts Inaugural Seabiscuit Legacy Film Series
Mendocino Film Festival and Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation
Present New Program – Sunday, May 31

WILLITS, CA – Willits boasts an illustrious and star-studded history, with many of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, and Carole Lombard, frequent guests of Charles S. Howard at Ridgewood Ranch. Perhaps the biggest star of all to grace the grounds was the legendary racehorse, Seabiscuit.

In 1940, Seabiscuit won the Santa Anita Handicap, smashing records and racing into history as he cemented his legend and inspired the nation, before retiring a hero at Ridgewood Ranch. That same year, Noyo Theatre was founded. Now, 75 years later, as the Mendocino Film Festival celebrates an anniversary of its own, the remarkable hidden history of Willits is at the center of the Seabiscuit Legacy Film Series, which features award-winning films, a panel discussion on the history of film at Ridgewood Ranch, the present-day therapeutic riding program, a guided ranch tour, and a 1940s-themed reception.

On Sunday, May 31, the Mendocino Film Festival will launch the Seabiscuit Legacy Film Series, honoring horses that embody the spirit of hope that Seabiscuit instilled in his fans and in generations since. In partnership with the Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation, the Mendocino Film Festival will restore an old tradition to the Festival’s newest venue.

“My great-grandfather Charles S. Howard and his wife Marcela loved the fine old Hollywood classics,” according to Colonel Michael Howard, family historian and a panelist at this year’s Seabiscuit Legacy Film Series. “They hosted many ‘movie nights’ at Ridgewood Ranch with their inside links to Hollywood (particularly through Bing & Dixie Crosby).”

The inaugural Seabiscuit Legacy Film Series, hosted by Cynthia Ariosta, will pay homage to that rich heritage.

“This year’s Willits program presents films with a focus on extraordinary equines that live up to the legacy of Seabiscuit as a beacon of hope and films that explore the history of Seabiscuit and Ridgewood Ranch,” says Mendocino Film Festival Executive Director Michael Fox. “As we celebrate two major milestones for Noyo Theatre and Ridgewood Ranch, we look forward to celebrating many more.”

“We are thrilled to partner with the Mendocino Film Festival in hosting the Seabiscuit Legacy Film Series at Ridgewood Ranch, including films that exemplify Seabiscuit’s winning spirit,” agrees Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation. “The horse continues to inspire!”

The program opens with a ranch tour at 10:00 am. Three films will screen at Ridgewood Ranch, starting at 12:00 pm: The Making of a Legend: Seabiscuit’s 1940 Victory at Santa Anita Park, compiled by Kip Hannan, Ridgewood Ranch — Home of Seabiscuit, a project by Mendocino County Museum featuring original cinematography by Dr. “Doc” Raymond Babcock, and Riding My Way Back, the story of a veteran battling PTSD and the horse who saved him. A panel discussion follows the films.

Colonel Michael Howard will represent the Howard family on the panel. He is the great-grandson of C.S. Howard and a decorated veteran, as well as the official Howard Family historian and primary source for Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller Seabiscuit: An American Legend. He will be joined by local luminaries Erin Holzhauer, program director and instructor at the Ridgewood T.R.A.I.L. program, and Alison Glassey, director of the Mendocino County Museum.

Then, a 1940s-themed reception at the historic Howard House transports attendees back to a bygone era.

The reception begins at 1:00 pm and will be held at the historic Howard House, with the Dorian May Trio crooning Bing Crosby songs and other tunes typical of the era. A 1938 Buick and a 1941 Buick will be on display in a nod to C.S. Howard’s background as west-coast Buick automobile magnate. During the reception, author Roni McFadden will sign copies of her book, Josephine – A Tale of Hope and Happy Endings, the heartwarming true story of one of the bravest “Lil’ Biscuits.” The menu will feature hors d’oeuvres and fine wines by Seabiscuit Ranch and Barra of Mendocino.

Screening at Noyo Theatre at 4:00 pm, Harry & Snowman concludes the 2015 program. Harry& Snowman tells the poignant and inspiring true story of Dutch immigrant Harry deLeyer and the old plowhorse he rescued from a trip to the slaughterhouse — and their subsequent victories as national show jumping champions. This underdog story speaks to the power of friendship and determination. Karin Reid Offield, founder of “Brek-n-Ridge Farm,” executive producer of Harry & Snowman and competitive hunter, jumper, and dressage trainer, will be present for a Q&A. Karin’s original archival footage of Harry deLeyer and Snowman was an essential part of the film.

Tickets are now on sale. For film tickets and information, visit www.MendocinoFilmFestival.org. For ranch tour and reception tickets, please visit www.seabiscuitheritage.org. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Ridgewood T.R.A.I.L. therapeutic riding program, now serving veterans. (www.ridgewoodtrail.com)

The Seabiscuit Legacy Film Series is made possible by the generosity of many supporters, including Noyo Theatre, Barra of Mendocino, Maple Hill Stables Company, Veit Automotive Foundation, Baechtel Creek Inn, Mendocino County Museum, Neartown Animal Clinic, Shanachie Pub, Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital, Sparetime Supply, Ag Unlimited Farm Supply, Out and About Media, and Santa Anita Park.

Special Thanks to Early Iron of Ukiah Car Club, Tres Bien Creamery, Silvestri Machine Shop, Ridgewood T.R.A.I.L. Riders Association, Willits Rotary Club, and the Frank R. Howard Foundation.