With the forecast of rain for Philadelphia on Saturday, the prospect of a wet Pennsylvania Derby has me thinking back even more to one of the most incredible races I’ve ever seen. When this year’s field enters the starting gate, it will be almost exactly 25 years to the day since Broad Brush pulled off a stunning victory in the Pennsylvania Derby of 1986.
I still remember the day so well. I was a senior in high school, and my father and I were on the road to Philadelphia Park, as we often were in those years. The almost two-hour drive from Northern New Jersey, gave us a chance to catch up on the week’s goings on, but more than anything we discussed the horses. We talked about the stakes horses, whether or not we were about to see them run in person or not. That day we would have the pleasure of seeing one of the best three-year-olds in the nation in person. Broad Brush was a horse we both admired.
The Dickie Small trained colt had done nothing but display consistent class in the 15 races he had run since his career had begun eleven months before. My father and I both liked the horse for a variety of reasons. We had won money on him when he won that spring’s Wood Memorial at 7-1. Hoist the Flag had been one of our favorite sires for years, and Broad Brush was a son of the Hoist the Flag mare Hay Patcher. It was easy to like Broad Brush, as he was competitive in all the big races, even without our own personal reasons.
To tell you the truth, we were pleased to be going to see him that day, but we were not expecting that interesting of a race. The Pennsylvania Derby had attracted Broad Brush, but not one other horse in the field carried near his star power. Broad Brush, having lost his previous few races against the very best of competition, was sure to be a heavy favorite against the rest, who honestly were little more than minor stakes horses. We had no idea what would be in store for us on that day.
The day proved to be a bit gloomy. It rained throughout the afternoon and the track was sloppy. My father and I had no luck during the day with our picks, and with Broad Brush at 4-5, we did not see much opportunity to win money on the feature race. So far the best thing about the day was the Philadelphia Park hot dogs we consumed for lunch. They always taste better at the track, don’t they? Now, if you think a 4-5 shot will be beaten, it can be an exciting race to bet. The Pennsylvania Derby was not such a race; neither of us saw anyone in that field touching Broad Brush.
So it went, as Broad Brush seized command on the far turn and was poised to waltz home to an easy score, but if horse racing has taught me one thing, it is to never become complacent. Six of the seven horses turned for home down the Philadelphia Park stretch and one did not. Broad Brush did not turn…at all. He instead headed directly for the outer rail. His lead was gone. By the time Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero straightened him out, he could have grabbed a beer from one of the railbirds. He had gone from easily in front to well back in an instant.
It was a shocking way for a horse to lose a big race. But, here is the catch, or the reason for this story if you will, Broad Brush did not lose.
I steered my gaze toward the new leaders to watch, what I thought would be the rest of the race unfolding. I was wrong. Broad Brush, after running out to about the 20 path, was now angling back to the rest of the horses and gaining with every stride. It was if he needed this extra bit of work just to have some fun with the overmatched field. It was not to be believed, except I was there, I was seeing it with my own eyes. After losing all that ground, it was unthinkable that he could still win the race. He did. Broad Brush won with room to spare. The official margin was 1 ¼ lengths, but it may as well have been 30. To this day, it is the most remarkable performance I have ever seen.
Broad Brush went on to have a great 27 race career, and became an excellent sire, and broodmare sire, but for me, it was that one day at Philadelphia Park, now called Parx Racing, that will always be my most special memory of him.
So as the 2011 Pennsylvania Derby is run, and especially if it is in the mud, I will be sure to take the time to think back to the day Broad Brush won this race in the most incredible way. I’m sure I won’t see anything near like it on Saturday from To Honor and Serve, Ruler On Ice, Rattlesnake Bridge, or the rest, but if any of them can run half the race that Broad Brush did 25 years ago, it will be impressive indeed.