The Fighting Finish

April 16, 2019

The Fighting Finish

By Jonathan Stettin

In the great history of the Run for the Roses there have been many thrilling moments. Not only do we have the thrill of a major sporting event and the combination of human and equine athleticism, but a significant amount of money changes hands depending on the outcome — and fortunes can be made or lost. The Sport of Kings has turned billionaires into millionaires and average people into millionaires. It also fathered the saying “bet the horses and you’ll sleep in the park.” Nonetheless, there are a select few who beat the game wagering… and also those who make or spend their fortunes on it.

You may have never heard of Colonel Edward Riley Bradley or maybe you recall the name only from the stakes race run at Fair Grounds every year. Considering he owned the track at one time, it’s only fair it should host a stakes in his name.  As a student of the game, you’ll probably enjoy knowing a bit about him and his part in what is likely the most exciting Kentucky Derby in history.

Yes, the most exciting Derby in history is a bold statement. No worries, you’ll have the chance to judge for yourself.

Colonel Bradley described himself as a “speculator, raiser of racehorses and gambler.” He was likely many other things as well, but today we are concerned with horse racing and the most exciting Kentucky Derby ever. The “fighting finish” Derby it was called. And it surprises me it is not talked about more often or brought up in more racing conversations. How fast we forget.

Col. Bradley

As we anticipate this year’s running, what better time is there to reminisce about this past edition, the excitement over which has yet to be equaled?

Colonel E. R. Bradley owned four Kentucky Derby winners. In 1921, his Behave Yourself won it. In 1926, he won again with Bubbling Over. In 1932, he scored yet again with Burgoo King and, in 1933, he took the roses with Brokers Tip. Yes, all the horses’ names started with the Bradley “B.” That was just something the Colonel did.

Another thing you may not know is that a maiden once won the Kentucky Derby. It was Colonel Bradley’s Brokers Tip, who, interestingly, never won another race. The 1933 Kentucky Derby was Brokers Tip’s only win.

And what a win it was… if he actually won it. The record books says he did, but there are some who say he didn’t. Again, no worries, you’ll get to judge that too.

Brokers Tip was born shortly after the Stock Market Crash, hence the name. The Colonel obviously had a sense of humor. The horse came into the Derby as a longshot without much backing and, despite being owned by such a prominent racing figure, he wasn’t taken very seriously. Brokers Tip and his rider Don Meade had other ideas, however. They wanted to win.

The track was muddy and Head Play, a relative of the great Man O’ War, known for being stubborn and headstrong like his relative, was kept well out in the track where the going was thought to be better by his rider Herb Fisher. This allowed Brokers Tip, the maiden, to rally from far off the pace and come into the stretch on the inside of Head Play who looked on his way to victory.

Then, it happened — the “Fighting Finish.”

The two horses locked in a head-and-head battle coming down the stretch. Neither was giving in. Neither were their riders. Don Meade (Brokers Tip) and Herb Fisher (Head Play) started grabbing each other’s saddle clothes, reins, irons — whatever they could. They could be seen duking it out down the stretch, as their horses continued to battle. The crowd was screaming and if there was ever an all-in race for the ages this was it.

It took a photo finish camera to determine the winner. There was one problem, however: this was 1933 and they didn’t have one. The winner was determined by four judges who watched the race with binoculars. Brokers Tip was given the nod.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Before the race could be declared official, the stewards had to settle the racetrack spat. Although it was pretty obvious several fouls occurred, the stewards let the result stand. The ruling was that both riders were trying hard to win, not necessarily deliberately impede the other horse’s chances. That almost makes the Bayern ruling in the Breeders’ Cup Classic sound reasonable.

Frustrated backers of Head Play felt they won… and given that the binocular view at most tracks makes it look like the inside horse is ahead, they may have had a point. They also felt the stewards were concerned about crossing the Colonel. Who knows? From what I’ve heard, that too has merit.

If the Fighting Finish doesn’t get you ready for the greatest two minutes in sports, have someone check your pulse. As promised, you be the judge, did the maiden really win a race? Did the stewards make the right call? You make the call:

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