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U bets big bucks on Seabiscuit

Ross, Sindell producing drama

Universal Pictures has trotted out a sum just shy of $1 million to acquire “Four Good Legs,” the story of legendary racehorse Seabiscuit, for producers Gary Ross and Jane Sindell.

The Depression-era drama will mark the first project acquired for Ross and Sindell since they established their Larger Than Life Prods. banner in June.

Ross, who is making his directing debut with the upcoming “Pleasantville,” could possibly direct the project, but no deal is in place. And it is not clear whether he also will write the screenplay.

Universal’s purchase was based on a book proposal from writer Linda Hillenbrand. The famed racehorse saga recently was the subject of an article in the July/August issue of American Heritage magazine. Random House will publish the book, which Hillenbrand is currently writing.

Several other major studio production companies were interested in the book. But one exec said his company dropped out of the running because the material was all in the public domain and had already been covered in several other books.

“Four Good Legs” is described as a rags-to-riches historical drama set against the Great Depression and the country’s fascination and identification with racehorse Seabiscuit.

The book follows Seabiscuit and his trainer, jockey and owner: an ex-prize fighter, a bicycle repairman and a retired Wild West showman, respectively, all casualties of the Depression. Together, they take a small, gangly horse and turn the underdog into one of the winningest and most beloved racehorses in American sports history. Seabiscuit copped Horse of the Year honors in 1938.

Universal prexy of production Stacey Snider and senior VP Mary Parent are overseeing the project.

CAA brokered the film side of the deal. Tina Bennett of the New York lit house Janklow & Nesbit handled the book deal.

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