Filly champs at four: Busher and Twilight Tear

Mar 10th 2010 09:08 pm |

On Saturday, Rachel Alexandra will launch her 4-year-old season at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans. In 2009, Rachel A. became just the third 3-year-old filly to be awarded Horse of the Year. She has a challenging road ahead and has much to accomplish to meet the expectations imposed on her by the racing world. Her second start of the year is scheduled for the Apple Blossom, where she would face the undefeated Breeders Cup Classic winner Zenyatta.

Rachel Alexandra

Rachel Alexandra, 2009 Horse of the Year (AP)

If Rachel Alexendra can notch a single victory in 2010, it will be one more than the other two 3-year-old filly Champions could manage. Busher and Twilight Tear — the other 3-year-old fillies named HOTY in 1944 and 1945 — only raced one time each after their sophomore campaigns, both starts ended in losses and subsequent retirement.

Busher did not race as a 4-year-old because of an injury suffered at the end of 1945. In January 1947, she made her 5-year-old debut in an allowance race, and finished an uninspired 5th, in what was the final race of her career. Her owner, the movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, was said to be so devastated by Busher’s retirement that he sold his racing stable. The Associated Press reported on the end of Busher’s career on February 10, 1947:

“…Close observers declared that [Louis B.] Meyer’s heart went out of racing when Busher failed to come back, and the evidence points that way.


Busher, 1945 Horse of the Year

“Mayer bought Busher from Col E.R. Bradley for $50,000 at the end of her two-year-old season.

“In 1945, as a three-year-old, Busher nearly swept the boards at Santa Anita, Washington Park and Hollywood Park. She became the darling of the turf and of Mayer’s affections. The movie magnate was never happier than when standing in the winner’s circle with the glistening bay filly.

“Then after clinching horse-of-year honors, Busher broke down in a prep for the Hollywood Gold Cup…”

“…Intensive plans were laid to bring back the No. 1 filly at the 1946-47 Santa Anita meeting. Now a five-year-old, she was nominated for the $100,000 Santa Anita handicap March 1 and all efforts pointed toward that goal.

“On Jan 2, Busher was started in a six-furlong sprint test. She ran fifth in a field of six fillies and mares she used to beat with one hoof tied behind her back.

“She was nominated for the $50,000 San Pasqual, then scratched a few hours before the race Jan 11.

“On Jan 13, a Mayer spokesman disclosed that ‘L.B. wants to sell and get out.’

When Mayer dispersed his stable for $500,000, he sold his beloved Busher for $135,000. She eventually landed at the Maine Chance farm in Kentucky where she delivered five foals. She died in 1955.  A few years after the heavily publicized sale of his racing stable, Louis B. Mayer re-entered the horse business and bred the 1959 Preakness winner Royal Orbit

Twilight Tear also fizzled after winning Horse of the Year. She closed her 3-year-old campaign by beating handicap champion Devil Diver in the Pimlico Special. She scratched from what was to be her final start in the Riggs Handicap at Pimlico on Nov 20, 1944 because of track conditions. Twilight Tear did not make her 4-year-old debut until August 1945. The Associated Press reported on her final career start:

“It looks like the end of the trail for Twilight Tear, Warren Wright’s great filly who has won more than $200,000 and last year was named ‘horse of the year.’ The Tear bled in her four-year-old debut at Washington Park [Chicago] yesterday and faltered to finish last in a five horse field.

“Trainer Ben Jones declared she ‘hemorrhaged** through the nose during the race, then had another attack on the way to the stable. I have informed Mr. Wright that we ought to retire her, but I won’t know until I hear from him.’

Twilight Tear was indeed retired and sent to the legendary Calumet Farm. She foaled a number of stakes winners including A Gleam (pictured below, as a foal), who won the Hollywood Oaks among her dozen wins.  Twilight Tear died in 1954.

Twilight Tear

Twilight Tear, 1944 Horse of the Year

If Rachel Alexandra can return to form in 2010, she will surpass Busher and Twilight Tear among the all-time great fillies. Busher and Twilight Tear’s 3-year-old campaigns might be more impressive because they notched more wins, and raced in open company more often, but neither did anything beyond their stellar sophomore seasons.

Another full season of racing where Rachel Alexandra beats high class competition, will elevate her into another stratosphere. When all is said and done, she might turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime filly.


** NOTE: When a horse “hemorrhages” or “bleeds” its not as horrific as its sounds.  When horses are running, and they over-exert themselves, they sometimes burst blood vessels in their lungs.  This condition effects their breathing and, obviously, ability to race.  The drug Lasix, legal in American racing, is used to treat this condition.  Joe Drape, of the New York Times, wrote about Lasix in an article in 2009.

Associated Press. “Twilight Tear at Trail’s End,” The Spokesman-Review, August 30, 1945

Associated Press. “Busher Injured Out of Big Race,” The Spokesman-Review, October 16, 1945

Associated Press. “Busher Failure Leads to Sale,” Kentucky New Era, February 10, 1947

Twilight Tear at the Unofficial Racing Hall of Fame

Image of Twilight Tear from H.P. Richardson’s The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America

Read more about Twilight Tear at Brooklyn Backstretch

Ron Micetic — a reader who has been tremendously generous in providing scans of his extensive racing program collection — has come through again, in a big way, with a ticket for yours truly to this year’s Apple Blossom. I have hammered out all the logistics and will be hitting the road on Tuesday April 6 with a stop at Keeneland to visit the library and watch the races. Then its off to Hot Springs for two days of racing at Oaklawn. I will be posting images and reports throughout the trip here at Colin’s Ghost. Should be epic — hoping the big race goes off as planned.


Filed in Busher,Horse of the Year,Rachel Alexandra,thoroughbred racing history,Twilight Tear

2 Responses to “Filly champs at four: Busher and Twilight Tear”

  1. Emily says:

    What about Miss Woodford, Horse of the Year as a 3yo and a 4yo in the 1880s? Beldame was also HOY as a 3yo, although she had a dropping-off in form at 4.

  2. Kevin says:

    Hi Emily: Thanks for commenting. When I talk about Horse of the Year, I look at 1936 and after. All prior Horse of the Year awards were not officially voted but “awarded” later. Here is how racing historians Edward Bowen explains it:

    “…starting with 1936 as the dawn of official championships meant that a great deal of American Turf history existed in a sort of limbo. Not long before the advent of the Eclipse Awards, Kent Hollingsworth, then editor of the Blood Horse, pored over the history of racing as passed down by such stalwart journalists as John Hervey, Walter Vosburgh, Joseph A. Estes, and Joe Palmer. Based on his conclusions relative to their opinions, Hollingsworth published in The Great Ones a list of division and overall champions (Horse of the Year) starting in 1870,”

    You can read more about the topic, and why I consider Rachel A as the 3rd 3-year-old filly to win horse of the year, in a post I did last year: