Three Year Old Filly as Horse of the Year?By: Ron Hale
Can you imagine a three-year-old filly defeating the best older handicap males in the country and being named Horse of the Year? Can you imagine that happening two years in a row?
It did In 1944 and 1945. The great distaffers, Twilight Tear and Busher were named champion three-year old, three-year-old filly, handicap female and Horse of the Year in those two consecutive years. (Note: Polls in the pre-Eclipse era gave awards to both sexes in age groups and then selected one for best of that age group overall.)
Busher is honored with the $60,000 added Busher Stakes (Gr. III) at Aqueduct, one of the newer stakes on the NYRA calendar -- having been inaugurated in 1978. Appropriately, the race is for three-year-old fillies.
Busher was bred by Col. E. R. Bradley's Idle Hour Stock Farm. The colonel (whose horses won the Kentucky Derby four times) had long avoided breeding to the "hot blood" of Fair Play (sire of Man o' War). But in the late 1930s, he sent several mares to War Admiral, Triple Crown winner and son of Man o' War. The mare Baby League dropped Busher in 1942.
As a two-year old, Busher won five of seven starts, including the Matron and the Selima. She was voted champion two-year-old filly of 1944.
Racing in America in 1945 was banned by the government beginning January 5. Frustrated by the lack of racing opportunities and his advancing age, Col. Bradley sold many of his horses. Busher was sold to movie mogul Louis B. Mayer (the second "M" in MGM Studios) for $50,000.
Since Mayer worked primarily in Hollywood, it was natural that the filly would be taken to California to await the return of racing in this country. Following V-E Day in May, racing returned. Santa Anita started its season five months later than usual, pusing Hollywood Park from the spring-summer to the fall.
Busher won three straight races, including the Santa Susana Stakes and a win over colts in the San Vicente Handicap. She was nodded in the Santa Anita Derby by her former Idle Hour stablemate, Bymeabond. She then beat older fillies and mares in the Santa Margarita Handicap before shipping east.
Remarkably, in Chicago she GAVE actual weight to older males and won the Arlington Handicap. She beat Duranza in a match race and then, giving weight on the scale, Busher beat the mighty Calumet Farm star Armed in the Washington Park Handicap, breaking the 13-year-old track record for one mile and one quarter. (Armed would in a later year be named Horse of the Year.)
Shipped back to California for the "fall" Hollywood Park season, Busher easily beat the colts in the Hollywood Derby and older fillies and mares in the Vanity Handicap.
She finished the season at 13-10-2-1 and was the unanimous selection for Horse of the Year, the second consecutive year that the honor went to a three-year-old filly. Injured at the end of 1945, she missed the races in 1946 and was returned to the track once in 1947 before finally being retired.
Busher was sold to Maine Chance Farm where she was the dam of one runner, Jet Action, who earned more than $300,000. She died in 1955.
In the 52 years since 1945, no three-year-old filly has been named Horse of the Year. In 1965, one national poll, that conducted annually by Turf & Sport Digest among sports writers, named the remarkable two-year-old filly Moccasin Horse of the Year. The four-year-old fillies, All Along and Lady's Secret, received the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year in 1983 and 1986 respectively.
© 1997,2001 Ron Hale