Today’s feature at Aqueduct is the Busher, for three-year-old fillies at a mile and a sixteenth. Run for the first time in 1978, the race is named for the filly who was the Horse of the Year in 1945. She’s depicted here in a painting by J.N. Slick, from the National Museum of Racing collection.
Busher began her career on the East Coast in the barn of J.W. Smith. This daughter of War Admiral won the Adirondack and the Matron en route to becoming the champion two-year-old filly (Spiletta). Sold to movie mogul Louis B. Mayer (the Mayer in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, MGM) during the racing hiatus during World War II, Busher headed west and was a superstar in her time, beating colts in the 1945 San Vicente and finishing second in the Santa Anita Derby, going off the 1-2 favorite; she won the Santa Margarita Handicap under 126 pounds before heading off to tackle the Mid-West, beating the boys again—by four and a half lengths—in the Arlington Handicap (Reilly).
Following a match race (which she won) against Durazna, a filly who had beaten her in the Beverly Handicap, Busher again took on males in the Washington Park Handicap, beating them and setting a new record while she was at it. As a three-year-old, Busher won ten of thirteen starts and was on the board in the other three, leading her to horse of the year, champion three-year-old, and champion handicap mare honors (Reilly). Not bad for a sophomore.
A 1945 Time magazine article about her end-of-year honors characterizes her as a “lazy worker who never does anything more than is asked of her.” Nice, eh? Think that the author could do what she did carrying nearly 130 pounds? A slightly more complimentary article about her achievements appears in the December, 1945 New York Times (registration and possibly payment required; Times subscribers can read for free).
Busher is listed as #40 on The Blood-Horse’s top 100 racehorses of the 20th century, and after learning her story, it’s easy to understand why. To provide some context, Ruffian is #25, the undefeated Personal Ensign #48, and Go For Wand #72. We know their names so well, and each of their eponymous races is a Grade I, while Busher’s is ungraded, and her name much less well known. Maybe it’s because she was a star a relatively long time ago, or because her offspring didn’t amount to much, or because so many of her triumphs took place outside of New York State…but as far as I can tell, this is the only place that has seen fit to name a race for her, not California, and not Illinois, where she toyed with her competitors. Though inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1964, she is mostly a ghost of racing’s past, and certainly seems worthy of more recognition than she gets.
Updated February 2016.
Much of the information above comes from a terrific article by Kellie Reilly, which is linked repeatedly and cited below. Do take the time to read it.
“Busher Is Chosen Horse of the Year.” The New York Times. 10 Dec. 1945
“Foible-less Filly.” Time Magazine. 24 Sept. 1945. Time.com. 23 Feb. 2008.
Reilly, Kelly. “Busher – 1945 Horse of the Year.” The Handicapper’s Edge. 24 Feb. 2006. Thoroughbred Sports Network. 23 Feb. 2008. <>
Slick, J.N. Busher. National Museum of Racing, Saratoga Springs, New York. Used with permission.