Busher: The Little Filly Who Could

Busher, 1945 Horse of the Year. Daughter of War Admiral.
Busher & Eddie Arcaro. Keeneland Library Meadors Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

She was small, but she was oh so mighty. Her coat gleamed like a ray of chestnut sunshine, the blood of a triple crown winner coursed through her veins.

In just two years of racing and less than a decade of breeding, Busher was able to prove herself as one of racing’s great females. Hers is a story that deserves to be told.

Breeding and Early Life (1942-32)

In 1898, businessman Colonel E.R. Bradley purchased land in Lexington, Kentucky and began to build a horse racing empire. Idle Hour Stock Farm saw the rise of world-class breeding and training facilities. Bradley soon began decorating his lush fields and beautiful stables with top-notch racehorses.

With each decade, his breeding operation improved. Thirty-two after he purchased his farm, he introduced the French mare La Troienne to his broodmare band. She produced two foals for Bradley before he bred her to his 1926 Kentucky Derby winner Bubbling Over. The mating produced Baby League.

Baby League won just once before coming back to Idle Hour Stock Farm to join his dam in the broodmare band. With some guidance from bloodstock agent Olin Gentry, Bradley decided to send Baby League to 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral. He had been reluctant to send any of his mares to the Fair Play/Man o’ War sire line because of their tempers, but Gentry insisted that breeding to War Admiral would be like breeding to the great Sweep.

[Video: Learn about Busher's sire War Admiral here]

Bradley had a strong liking for Sweep, so he agreed to send Baby League to War Admiral. On April 27, 1942, a chestnut filly by War Admiral was born at Idle Hour Stock Farm. A bright, shining star on the filly’s head foreshadowed the greatness that was to come.

The filly grew up on Bradley’s farm alongside her dam. Baby League took careful care of her daughter, raising her with the heart and toughness that she would need to succeed on the racetrack. When the time came, Bradley bestowed the name Busher upon the filly and sent her to training.

Two-Year Old Season (1944)

Under the care of former jockey Jimmy Smith, Busher began to blossom. She made her racing debut in May of 1944 at Belmont Park, winning by one length. Even though she had won, Smith felt that the small filly needed a few more months to mature. He took her out of the races and allowed her to grow. She returned with a fire inside her, winning again with talent and poise. Busher then made her stakes debut in the Spinaway Stakes as the betting favorite. However, her chances at victory were spoiled when she broke poorly from the gates. She was able to make a late run, but couldn’t finish better than fourth.

She made her next start in the Adirondack Handicap, this time with the legendary Eddie Arcaro in the irons. The filly again bobbled at the start, but Arcaro was able to correct her and hustle her up towards the pace. She flew down the stretch to win by two lengths.

Jimmy Smith put the filly in an allowance race for a tune up before her next stakes race, but she lost by a head to Nomadic while conceding her 11 pounds. Sick of losing, she was out to get revenge on those who had defeated her.

Busher put in a well-deserved victory in the Matron Stakes in her next out, fighting hard against Calumet Farm’s Twosy to prevail by a neck. In doing so, Busher beat Spinaway Stakes winner Price Level as well as the Nomadic who had beaten her in their previous start.

The young filly was then shipped to Maryland for the Selima Stakes at Laurel Park. She won by an easy three-lengths, defeating horses like Gallorette and Ace Card. She had made a name for herself as the best filly of the year and was named division champion.

However, the future of horse racing was uncertain in those days. Horse racing had been banned until the Allies won in Europe so that the country could concentrate on the war. With this, Bradley decided to sell some of his racing stock.

Louis B. Mayer of MGM Studios took the opportunity to snatch up Busher for a cool $60,000. She had a new owner, a new trainer in George Odem, and new jockey Johnny Longden. Clearly, it was time for a new year!

Three-Year Old Season (1945)

Busher took to liking her new home of Santa Anita Park. Under the guidance of her new trainer, she grew even stronger and faster. The racing world, including Busher herself, were eager for the horses to load back into the starting gates.

Just after the celebrations of V-E Day, Santa Anita kicked off its new meet. Busher and her connections celebrated with a five length romp in an Allowance race. Just a week later, she dominated her contemporaries in the Santa Susana Stakes by seven lengths.

She had proven herself against the fillies time and time again, so the decision was made to run against the colts in the San Vicente Handicap. Busher was not intimidated -- she overcame an interference by a loose