Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 86 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 86 days to go!

86 Days!!! Broker's Tip, the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby as his lone win, was involved in one of the most controversial and thrilling finishes ever, best known as the "Fighting Finish".

Broker’s Tip was owned by Col. E.R. Bradley, a man that was very instrumental in influencing the world of racing, in addition to his philanthropy. Bradley purchased the Fair Grounds in 1926 to renovate, invested in Hialeah Park, and with his wife, built clubhouses for the jockeys at several tracks. He worked intently on making circumstances better for thoroughbred welfare, as well as experimenting with and designing equipment to help improve horse’s performances.

Bradley also heavily influenced the breed in America. His breeding operation was built on crossing European exports to American lines. While it was in fashion to cross the import mares with American sire lines, he had equal success in crossing import sires with American mares. This is what led to Bradley importing the incredible French mare, La Troienne, whose tail-female line has over 800 stakes winners. He owned La Troienne's best racing son, named Bimelech. Bimelech was unbeaten as a 2YO and was the 1939 2YO Champion. He lost the Derby to Gallahadion, but won the Preakness and Belmont. He also went on to become a successful stallion.

Bradley's best filly was Busher, sired by War Admiral and out of a La Troienne mare. She was 2YO Champion Filly and as a 3YO was one of five females to be named Horse of the Year. As a result of his many accomplishments, Bradley was featured on the cover of the May 7, 1934 issue of Time Magazine. Broker's Tip, by Bradley's famed Black Toney (also sire of 1924 winner Black Gold), out of the French mare Forteresse, was named after the 1929 stock market crash. Forteresse’s sire, Sardanapale, had leg issues that were passed on to Broker’s Tip. He was born with a calcium deficiency that had him walking awkwardly on his pasterns.

Through corrective splints and shoeing, he was able to make it to the track, although he was plagued with leg issues his entire life. His best finish before running in the Derby was a third in the Cincinnati Trophy, resulting in his being highly overlooked coming into the race.

Two days of rain prior led everyone to believe that there was no way that the track would be in good condition. Because of the muddy track, nine horses that were to be entered withdrew, leaving Bradley feeling optimistic that his horse had a chance. As a result, Broker’s Tip, the maiden, was entered into the field of 13. 45,000 attended the great race, which was the last to be run during the Great Depression.

At least 100 media representatives were on the grounds to cover the 59th running, the largest contingent to date. All became witness to what is known as the most famous Derby ever. The “Fighting Finish” would come down to an intense, driving battle between the jockeys aboard Broker’s Tip and Head Play.

Head Play was trained by Thomas P. Hayes, who also trained 1913 winner, Donerail. He made his 3YO debut a winning one in the Derby Trial which was run four days prior to the Derby. Head Play was purchased hours before the Kentucky Derby by Mrs. Silas B. Mason, from Mrs. William Crump, for the sum of $30,000. Although he lost the Derby by a nose, he went on the win the Preakness with jockey Charley Kurtsinger, as well as Champion 3YO Male.

Broker's Tip and Head Play were far better than the rest of the field, finishing four lengths ahead of the third place finisher. The "Fighting Finish" got its name because of the famous photograph of jockeys 22 year old Herb Fisher and 19 year old Don Meade entangled in a fight on the back of the two horses coming down the homestretch.

Louisville Courier-Journal photographer Wallace Lowery was under the rail, rolling out just in time to nab the iconic photo. Head Play looked to be easily passing Broker's Tip when for some reason Herb Fisher decided to start to drift Head Play over to squeeze Broker's Tip on the rail. He drifted in so close that Meade reached over and grabbed Head Play's saddle towel to get him off of Broker's Tip. Fisher then started to fight with Meade instead of riding his horse, something that Meade would attest to later, that had Fisher just rode his horse to win instead of lose, Head Play would've won by at least two lengths. Fisher only hit Head Play once as the incident started, and then put the whip away to battle with Meade. After they passed the finish line, Fisher took his whip and reached across Head Play, slashing Meade across the face. Broker's Tip was declared the winner by a nose; the announcement causing Fisher to become visibly distraught as he started sobbing. The fight wouldn’t end on the track. As soon as the two got into the jockey's quarters, fists started flying when Fisher came in and attacked Meade. They both got a 30 day suspension for their fight in the race, Fisher getting an additional five for starting the fight after the race. It took the two 32 years to finally be able to shake hands.

The “Fighting Finish” Derby would be the fourth and final Derby wins for the team of Colonel Bradley and “Derby Dick” Thompson. It was a record for them both, as no owner or trainer had four wins. Bradley also broke another record in 1933, becoming the first owner to have back-to-back winners in the great classic. Broker's Tip was injured in the Preakness and after a short try at a comeback, he was retired. He was leased by Admiral Cary Grayson to stand at his farm in Virginia. He had 112 named foals, of which 42 were winners. His lone stakes winner was the successful sire and distance horse, Market Wise, who was named Co-Champion Older Male Horse in 1943.

Once Grayson passed, Broker’s Tip was sold and stood in California. Eventually donated to UC Davis, he was used to teach students until his passing, when they would then use his skeleton as a teaching aid. Ultimately, after some years had passed, the forgotten skeleton was researched and located, then being donated to the Kentucky Derby Museum where his remains are buried.

From the chart: "Start good out of machine. Won driving… Broker’s Tip, much the best, began slowly, saved ground when leaving backstretch, but lost some on the stretch turn, then went to the inside and overcoming interference, was up to win in the final strides after a long and tough drive. Head Play, rated close to the pace, went to front easily, bore out when increasing his lead on the stretch turn and bumped the winner…”

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum