The Amazing Broad Brush Leaves Mark on the Derby Trail

Looking over the past performances of Derby hopefuls, I couldn’t help but make a connection between Louisiana Derby hopeful Ground Transport’s name and the colt’s broodmare sire, Broad Brush. That connection will become apparent as you read on. Just seeing the name Broad Brush brought back a flood of memories, evoking images of one of the toughest racehorses I’ve ever been around, and in many ways the most remarkable. It is safe to say there has never been a horse quite like Broad Brush, and it was a sad day when he was euthanized in 2009 at age 26.

With his grandson one race away from making it into the Kentucky Derby field, as tough a task as that is going to be, I thought this would be a good time to rekindle some of those memories, not only to share with readers, but just to make me feel good. That’s the kind of horse Broad Brush was. So, let’s begin in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 1986, and when I say early, that can be interpreted as very early or very late.

It was around 1 a.m., about an hour and a half after Broad Brush's resounding victory over older horses in the $500,000 Meadowlands Cup. It was the colt’s 14th start of the year, all stakes, at 11 different racetracks. Included among his seven stakes victories were the Jim Beam Stakes (now the Spiral), Wood Memorial, Ohio Derby, Pennsylvania Derby (one of the wildest, craziest victories you’ll ever see), and Meadowlands Cup. He also placed in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and finished second in the Travers, beaten a head, only to be disqualified to fourth.

In Barn 4E, trainer Richard Small had just finished fixing the colt an early breakfast (or late dinner) of oats and bran before chauffeuring him back home to Pimlico, as he always did. Small brought the feed bucket over to Broad Brush's stall and said to me, “Put your hand in this feed tub; I bet you can’t touch it.” The feed was so hot, I could barely hold my hand over it, never mind touch it.

“Watch this; you're not going to believe it,” Small said. As soon as he walked into Broad Brush’s stall, the colt came charging at the tub and buried his head in it before Small could hang it on the wall. He then proceeded to devour the scalding mixture without even flinching.

“He’s incredible,” Small said. “Half the horses in this race wouldn’t eat anything right after a race, but he doesn’t even wait for it to cool off. He’s so tough and durable. He’s made of the right stuff. I’ve never been around a horse like this.”

It was funny listening to Small describe a horse as being tough and durable and made of the right stuff. This is someone who used to go out on suicide missions in Vietnam while serving with the Green Berets.

One of the reasons Broad Brush was always so willing and enthusiastic was his relationship with Charles Turner, who was the colt’s security guard and traveling companion. Turner had been on the racetrack for 50 of his 57 years, and was a groom, licensed trainer, licensed owner, entrepreneur, hustler, and mentor. He helped teach a 14-year-old kid named Bill Hartack the tricks of the trade, along with other riders at Charles Town.

“I’m so proud of this horse,” Turner said, as he began making preparations for the van ride home. “I just think the world of him. He’s young, playful, and feeling good, and around the barn he’s a perfect gentleman. He has his own personality, his own character, and we just accept him. I’d never been to the Kentucky Derby before, never been to Saratoga before, but thanks to Broad Brush, now I have. He’s made my 57 years complete.”

Broad Brush, as mentioned earlier, was unlike any horse I have ever been around. When it came to sheer toughness, he was in a class by himself. He thrived on work and could not get enough of it. Small said the horse knew exactly when the track opened in the morning, and if he wasn't the first one out there “you couldn't deal with him.” The day after the 1987 Preakness, the Pimlico track was closed for clean-up and Small had to van the 4-year-old Broad Brush to Laurel just to gallop. In the winter of 1986, prior to the General George Stakes at Pimlico, all the Maryland tracks were frozen on the day Broad Brush was scheduled to work. Small put the colt on a van and drove him to his father's farm, where he worked him up a snow-covered hill. Three days later, Broad Brush won the General George.

The horse had such incredible recuperative powers, no ailment ever kept him out of training. He ran down badly in the '86 Travers , but two days later, to the amazement of Small, the injury was completely healed. He loved riding in vans and Small would often just take him for rides around the Maryland countryside to alleviate any boredom. In his 14 starts at 3, he raced at Pimlico, Laurel, Latonia, Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, Thistledown, Canterbury Downs, Monmouth, Saratoga, Philadelphia Park, and Meadowlands, and vanned to every race but one, logging 5,000 miles on the road. How appropriate to have his daughter produce a foal named Ground Transport.

The only problem Broad Brush caused Small in the mornings was his unwillingness to gallop or work long distances by himself. He thrived on competition and loved running alongside other horses. If Small sent him out by himself he would get bored and start playing around. Unfortunately, Small had no colts who could gallop with Broad Brush without getting knocked out for a week. Small said he just “overpowered and intimidated them. It was like they went through the wringer.”

Fortunately, Small had a claiming filly named Flow and Flux who had no speed, but was so tough and had so much stamina, she could gallop with Broad Brush and stand up to the pressure. Small had gone through a number of horses until he lucked out finding her. She became Broad Brush's galloping companion and traveled with him everywhere, including California in 1987, when he made three separate trips there, culminating with a heart-pounding nose victory over Ferdinand in the Santa Anita Handicap. Flow and Flux became so valuable to Small he couldn't even run her for fear of losing her. This is a filly who won one of 14 starts, a $14,000 maiden claiming race at Philadelphia Park. Of those 14 starts, she was out of the money in nine of them.

“She’s worth a fortune to me,” Small said in 1987. “There is no way we could have gotten Broad Brush to this level without her. I put her in a couple of allowance races this year, but I don’t dare run her at her own level because I can’t afford to lose her.”

In addition to his Santa Anita Handicap victory, Broad Brush at 4 won the Suburban, John B. Campbell, and Trenton Handicaps. He was third, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the Met Mile, conceding 18 pounds to the 3-year-old Gulch; was second by a nose to Waquoit in the Mass Cap, giving the big gray nine pounds; and was third in the Whitney, giving 14 pounds to Java Gold and 10 pounds to Gulch. In his Suburban victory, he was conceding 14 pounds to runner-up Set Style.

The day before the ’87 Preakness, Broad Brush went out for his 6 a.m. gallop, as usual accompanied by Flow and Flux. As important as Broad Brush’s works were, his gallops were even more important, which was the reason Flow and Flux was so valuable. As Small explained, the works were for wind exercise and the gallops were for muscle exercise.

Small leaned over the rail and again said, “Watch this, you’re not going to believe it.” In a few minutes, two figures came bounding out of the turn, so close together they seemed to be joined at the hip. Technically, they were in a gallop, but it was so vigorous it gave the illusion they were going much faster. Here was this big, dark bay colt on the inside, striding out powerfully, trying to keep up with the smaller light bay filly alongside him.

“She’s actually above him in the pecking order,” Small said as they charged past us. “She sets the pace of the gallop. He’ll slow down or go faster depending on what she does. Sometimes, she’ll just say to him, ‘What’s the matter, can’t you keep up?’”

Moments later, the pair came rolling by once again, still at a strong gallop and still eyeball to eyeball. Any other horse in Small’s barn would take several days to recover from such a gallop, but Flow and Flux did it every day for a year and a half.

“She’s got so much guts and heart, damned if I know where she gets it,” Small said. “She has one lick but she can carry it five miles. They’ve become real buddies. It’s like a human runner who likes to have a friend along to talk to.”

Several days before this gallop, “Brush” and “Flow” were out for a similar gallop, going at a two-minute lick. Shortly after, Kentucky Derby winner Alysheba went out for his two-minute lick, but covered only half the distance. And that was considered Broad Brush’s day off. Small even brought Flow and Flux to California with Broad Brush and worked them a mile together.

Broad Brush’s exercise rider, Frank Gerkin, said, “On the track he doesn’t pay any attention that she’s a filly, but once in a while walking to the track, he’ll give a little nicker.”

Small said he hoped that when Broad Brush was retired, owner Robert Meyerhoff, who owned both horses, would breed them just to see what happens.

After Broad Brush retired, Flow and Flux became a jumper, and in 1988 set a course record at Grand National for two miles. As Small had hoped, Meyerhoff did breed her to Broad Brush, and in 1993, she produced a filly named Cobber, who sold for $20,000 at the OBS Fall Mixed sale. Cobber ran 30 times, with three wins, three seconds, and three thirds. He finished first in another race, but was disqualified.

And finally we come to Broad Brush's most infamous moment -- his you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it victory in the Pennsylvania Derby, in which he not only bolted all the way to the outside fence nearing the quarter pole over a very sloppy track, he headed directly toward it at full speed, looking as if he were going to either crash into it or jump over it. It was only the frantic waving by the track veterinarian standing at the rail that prevented Broad Brush from winding up in the picnic area and jockey Angel Cordero from bailing out. Broad Brush quickly straightened himself out, angled back in, and miraculously came charging down the middle of the track to win the race.

Yes, this horse was one of a kind. After a stud career that saw him sire 86 stakes winners and top the leading sire list by progeny earnings in 1994, Broad Brush retired to a well-deserved life of leisure in 2004. When I visited Kentucky shortly after, I was driving down Old Frankfort Pike when it dawned on me. If I see a van with a dark bay horse peering out the window, I better give a friendly wave just in case Broad Brush was starting to get bored again.

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