The track superintendent at Gravesend in the late nineteenth century was known for his strict policies concerning horsemen who allowed their dogs to wander the grounds. Trainer Eugene Leigh, however, found him to be more lenient, since it was no accident that both the 1896 Kentucky Derby winner and the superintendent bore the name Ben Brush.
Colonel Catesby Woodford and Colonel Ezekiel F. Clay, partners in the business of breeding racehorses, had purchased the mare Roseville, a full sister to Kentucky Derby winner Azra, from Eugene Leigh in 1891. The following year they sent her back to Leigh's La Belle Stud in Yarnallton, Kentucky, to be bred to his stallion Bramble, who, carrying the silks of Mike Dwyer, had earned the handicap division championship in 1879. Roseville produced a bay colt by Bramble in 1893.
In 1894, Eugene Leigh, with his partner Ed Brown, paid $1200 for the yearling son of Bramble and Roseville at a sale held at Colonel Clay's Runnymede Farm. In order to express gratitude for valuable stall space at Gravesend, the partners dubbed the colt Ben Brush, in honor of that track's superintendent.
Under the management of Ed Brown, Ben Brush began his career on tracks in the Louisville area. His first start came on May 7, 1895, in a five furlong allowance race. Ben Brush was the easy winner, scoring by five lengths. A week later he wired the field in winning the Cadet Stakes by three lengths.
Next it was on to Latonia, where the son of Bramble romped home three lengths ahead of Nimrod, to whom he conceded ten pounds, in the Harold Stakes.
The story was the same in Ohio, where Ben Brush had little trouble winning the Emerald Stakes, and was merely galloping to beat Ben Eder in the Diamond Stakes. With five wins in five starts, he headed east.
Upon his arrival in New York, Ben Brush ran third in a purse at Sheepshead Bay before finding his stride. He easily won an overnight handicap while giving away nineteen pounds to his nearest challenger, then met Requital in the Flatbush Stakes. Ben Brush led into the stretch, but couldn't hold off Requital's closing drive, and finished second.
After running out of the money in the Great Eastern Handicap, Ben Brush won the Holly Handicap at Gravesend. He was then sold to Mike Dwyer, who had raced not only Bramble, but also the champions Hindoo, Hanover, Miss Woodford, and Luke Blackburn before dissolving his partnership with his brother in 1890. Dwyer paid somewhere between $12,000 and $18,000 for Ben Brush, who, as it turned out, was to be the last champion to carry his colors.
Carrying the Dwyer silks and rider Willie Simms for the first time, Ben Brush was victorious in an allowance race, merely cantering home, and then scored again in the Prospect Handicap. After a win in the Heavy Handicap, ironically run on a heavy track, trainer Hardy Campbell sent Ben Brush out to win the Nursery Handicap at Morris Park, despite carrying an impost of 127 pounds.
Ben Brush carried 128 pounds in the Albany Stakes, but that didn't stop him from wiring the field to win by three-quarters of a length. He concluded the season with an easy win in the Chamapagne Stakes, winning by a half length while giving the runner up ten pounds. At the end of his juvenile career, Ben Brush had earned $21,398 with thirteen triumphs in sixteen starts.
According to Walter S. Vosburgh, the colt probably could have successfully "conceded his year and a beating to any three-year-old of that season." And, in fact, he had defeated older horses in the Heavy Handicap, which was open to all ages.
Ben Brush made his 1896 debut in the Kentucky Derby. Coming away from the barrier, he stumbled badly, and Willie Simms, his rider, was nearly unseated. It seemed almost futile when he began a move on the backstretch, but he caught First Mate on the turn, and battled with Ben Eder for a quarter mile down the stretch before edging his nose in front to win. The game horse's bloody sides brought tears of shame to the eyes of his rider, who had not realized how severely he had been using his spurs.
The next time out, Ben Brush finished in a dead heat with Lady Inez in the Shulte Stakes, but successfully claimed a victory with a run off. Dwyer promptly dealt with the threat of future competition by purchasing both Lady Inez and Ben Eder from owner William McGuigan.
Ben Brush met Prince Lief for the first time in the Oakley Derby, and ended up third, beaten a length and a half. He took revenge the next time out, beating Prince Lief by a head in the Buckeye Stakes. In the National Derby, the pair hooked up again, and again dueled down the stretch eye to eye. This time, it was Prince Lief who got his head in front.
The Dwyer Brothers had the top two finishers in the Latonia Derby, in which Ben Brush and Ben Eder ran one-two. After a short layoff, Ben Brush came back for the Fall Handicap at Sheepshead Bay, but ran out of ground in his closing drive and finished fourth. Three days later he was disqualified after winning an overnight handicap by a nose, and thus finished the season with four wins and $26,755 in earnings.
The four-year-old Ben Brush was brilliant. After losing his season debut by a neck, then winning by three lengths five days later, Ben Brush carried top weight in the Suburban Handicap and scored by a length.
He was eased in the Sheepshead Bay Handicap, then was eased again in the Long Island Handicap. He won the Brighton Handicap, but still wasn't right, and pulled up lame after running third in the Midsummer Handicap at Saratoga.
Given only ten days to heal, Ben Brush came back to beat Clifford by a length in the Citizens Handicap, but gameness wasn't enough in the two and a quarter mile Brighton Cup. Asked to carry 130 pounds, Ben Brush could do no better than third.
A substitute rider was blamed for his next loss, when reunited with Willie Simms Ben Brush began a brilliant fall campaign. In the Omnium Handicap he met Belmont Stakes winner Hastings and the good horse Clifford, who had beaten him in the Long Island Handicap, but handed defeat to both, winning by three-quarters of a length.
After being nosed out by lightweight Havoc in the Oriental Handicap at Gravesend, Ben Brush beat Hastings by two lengths in the First Special. His old rival Requital was another five lengths back.
After a walkover, Ben Brush met Ornament, the Champion Three Year Old Colt and 1897 Horse of the Year, in the Second Special, and was again victorious, giving the colt nine pounds and still winning by three lengths.
In the final start of his career, Ben Brush met future Kentucky Derby winner Plaudit in an allowance race, and was beaten a head by the lightly weighted juvenile. He
had conceded thirty six pounds to the younger colt. Having won twenty four of his forty starts, and having run out of the money a mere six times, Ben Brush retired from racing with career earnings of $65,208.
At stud Ben Brush founded one of the three most influential lines of the early twentieth century, the other two lines tracing from Fair Play and Domino. The leading sire of 1909, Ben Brush sired Delhi, the 1904 Belmont Stakes winner and Champion Three Year Old Colt; Pebbles, the Juvenile Champion of 1914; Broomstick, who won the 1904 Travers Stakes, set a new American record for a mile and a quarter in the Brighton Handicap, and then went on to lead the Sires' List from 1913 until 1915; Sweep, twice leading sire, winner of the 1910 Belmont Stakes, and a champion at two and three; Theodore Cook, and Vandergift. Ben Brush lived until 1918. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955.
|Bramble||Bonnie Scotland||Iago||Don John|
|Mare by Plenipotentiary|
|Ivy Leaf||Australian||West Australian|
|Mare by Pantaloon|
|Stolen Kisses||The Knight of Kars|
|Albia||Alarm||Eclipse by Orlando|
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