Hope no one is going into Hillenbrand overload.... After 'Seabiscuit,' A Winning Week In Washington By Roxanne Roberts Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, July 28, 2003; Page C01 Talk about an amazing ride. "I couldn't have done it without the horse," said Laura Hillenbrand. She may not have been covered in roses, but the author of the best-selling book "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" was in the winner's circle this week. "It's been harried and exhausting . . . and wonderful," she said. On Monday, Hillenbrand and longtime love Borden Flanagan were at the White House for a screening of the movie based on her book with President Bush, Laura Bush, actors Tobey Maguire and Bill Macy, and DreamWorks honchos Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg. Friday, "Seabiscuit" opened nationwide to glowing reviews and predictions of Oscar nominations. Yesterday, Hillenbrand was honored at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel downtown for her work on behalf of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). "The White House definitely tops everything," said Hillenbrand, who lives here in Washington. "We had the night of our lives." The evening included a visit to the Oval Office and Laura Bush (a fan of the book) serving Hillenbrand a special treat: "At the end of the movie, the first lady brought me cookies." In the shape of a horse, no less. The huge and unexpected success of the book -- "Seabiscuit" has sold 3 million copies since it was published in 2001 -- has thrust the 36-year-old Hillenbrand into the spotlight both as a writer and as the human face of CFS. She's battled the disorder for 16 years, a debilitating struggle she chronicled earlier this month in the New Yorker to change the public perception. CFS has been largely attributed to mental illness, dismissed as nonexistent or as a refuge of Yuppie slackers. "Being derided was harder than the illness itself," she said. In 1996, after years of writing about racing, Hillenbrand became obsessed with the story of an injured jockey named Red Pollard and an overlooked horse named Seabiscuit. "I felt I understood exactly all the losses in this story," she said. "I identified with everyone in it." It took her four years to write the book around severe bouts of CFS; she was too sick to go on a book tour or attend the out-of-town premiere of the movie. Yesterday she was carefully conserving her energy for the 90-minute "Meet the Author" tea. "Our guest of honor is working from a limited battery pack," explained Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Association President Kim Kenney. But Hillenbrand rallied in the homestretch and felt well enough to answer questions and sign a few books. Guests at the tea included WAMU-FM's Diane Rehm, Centers for Disease Control researcher William Reeves, CFS lobbyist Tom Sheridan, actress Mary McDonough and CFS research benefactors. Next? Rest, and then another book. "It's not about a horse, but it's a good story," promised Hillenbrand. A sure bet, as they say at the track.