Busher broke her maiden in her first start, on my birthday in 1944 (several decades before I was born, I hasten to add). That victory kicked off a Belmont-centric two-year-old season in which the filly raced at the big oval six times, winning four starts, and finishing second and fourth once each. She won her only start outside of Belmont that year, the Selima at Laurel, according to Champions; Robertson says it took place at Pimlico.
Busher may well have been a horse for the course, but she didn’t have much say in the matter. Robertson shares this delightful anecdote about her owner:
Colonel Bradley was approaching his eighty-fifth birthday, and was unable to withstand the buffeting about of a racetrack crowd. He had a special place on the roof of Belmont Park which could be reached by elevator and which afforded him a good view of the races. As a result, except for her final start [of 1944, her two-year-old season], Busher raced only at Belmont.
During her winter off from racing, Busher was sold to movie producer Louis B. Mayer, who brought her to California to do some damage there. After trouncing the fillies, she took on the boys, winning the San Vicente and running second in the Santa Anita Derby to Bymeabond (great World War II racing name), who was carrying more weight.
Busher lost six times in her racing career, and it can’t be said that she didn’t hold a grudge:
The salient attribute of War Admiral’s little daughter, however, was she always took revenge: throughout her career, no horse ever defeated her without subsequently being defeated by Busher. (Robertson)
She was twice beaten by colts—Bymeabond in the Santa Anita Derby and Quick Reward in the Will Rogers. Undeterred, she came back to beat both of them in the 1945 Hollywood Derby, en route to setting a new record for earnings by a filly in a single season.
Busher was injured at the end of three year old year, took off for more than a year, and attempted a comeback at five to no avail. Her final race record: 21 – 15 – 3 – 1.
Her three-year-old season was one for the ages. She was the unanimous choice for champion three-year-old filly; she was the champion three-year-old (of both sexes); she was the champion handicap filly; and she was Horse of the Year. She was purchased for $50,000, and earned nearly $274,000 that year.
In 1947, Mayer dispersed his stable, and Busher was purchased for $135,000; her new owner promised to keep her in training, but Busher never raced again after the purchase. Earlier that year, she’d finished fifth in her comeback at Santa Anita.
Stakes races get moved around the calendar and around the racing circuit for a variety of reasons, of which sentimentality isn’t one, and it doesn’t appear that the Busher, in its 31 year history, was ever run at Belmont Park. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if the race, to be run this afternoon at Aqueduct, could be run at the track that this filly—and her owner—seemed to love so much? If it were, I’d head up to the roof, to try to find that spot where the octogenarian Colonel Bradley stood, watching his filly prove herself to be unmatched.
“Busher is Chosen Horse of the Year.” New York Times. 10 Dec 1945. 21 Feb 2008.
Busher Past Performances. Champions. New York: Daily Racing Form, LLC. 2000.
Robertson, William H.P. The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. New York: Bonanza Books, 1964.