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History Challenge answers: Bradley dominated an era of the game
By Ron Hale
1. In his first decade as owner of Idle Hour Stock Farm, Bradley had limited success. A horse who would turn everything around for him came into his stable in a roundabout way.
Bradley advised a friend, Memphis cotton broker William Prime, to buy all the 1912 yearling colts from the estate of James R. Keene in 1913. (Keene ranks as one of the sport’s greatest breeders and owners, having bred and/or owned seven horses who are today enshrined in racing’s Hall of Fame. He had died in January that year.)
Two weeks after Prime bought the colts, he suffered a major financial setback, and without letting on about his misfortune, told Bradley he did not like his purchases and wanted out. The colonel agreed to buy all 16 yearlings for $25,000 and promptly turned around and sold them at auction for $57,650.
Bradley bid on and bought back four of the yearlings. One he named Black Toney, who would go on to win 13 races out of 40 starts on the track.
More importantly, standing at Idle Hour, Black Toney sired 40 stakes winners (18 percent of his progeny) over the next two decades – three of whom are in racing’s Hall of Fame.
2. Throughout his life, Bradley was an obsessive gambler, who would bet on anything. At yearling sales, he would often approach buyers with odds on whether their purchase would ever win a purse. He would even give odds on the next day’s weather.
In 1921, the colonel bet big with all comers that his Black Servant would win the Kentucky Derby. In a ding-dong stretch battle, the other half of the Bradley entry, Behave Yourself, outgamed Black Servant by a head in Derby No. 47.
Five years later, Bradley was again one-two, when Bubbling Over won the Derby by five lengths over stablemate Bagenbaggage.
In between, Bradley’s top stallion Black Toney sired Black Gold, winner of the 50th Kentucky Derby in 1924. Earlier in the decade, the winning owner, Rosa Hoots from Oklahoma, had come to Bradley with the dying wish of her husband that his favorite broodmare, Useeit, be bred to the best stallion in the country. Despite the unknown quality of the broodmare, Bradley was sympathetic and agreed to the breeding with Black Toney.
Bradley later won back-to-back Derbys with Burgoo King (sired by Bubbling Over) in 1932 and Brokers Tip (sired by Black Toney) in 1933.
3. In the early 1930’s, Col. Bradley joined forces with Joseph E. Widener, investing heavily in making Hialeah Park near Miami the crown jewel of American racetracks.
Bradley remained a major investor in the track with the pink flamingos until 1943, by which time it was attracting the country’s richest and most famous families and its top horses.
Meanwhile, Bradley had to battle the flamboyant and highly controversial U. S. Senator Huey Long of Louisiana, who was always trying to shake him down for money from Fair Grounds. Bradley stood his ground.
Finally, Long trumped up a charge and subpoenaed Bradley to appear before a Senate committee in April 1934. When asked by the committee to state his occupation, Bradley stilled those in the room when he said, “speculator, raiser of racehorses, and gambler.” He added, “I gamble on anything.”
4. Col. Bradley had many trainers during the 40 years in which he campaigned his stable, and he was even known to train his own horses at times. But his most successful association was with Hall of Famer Herbert J. Thompson, who was referred to by horsemen as “Derby Dick” because he trained 26 Kentucky Derby starters (and all four winners) for Bradley. From 1920 through 1937, Bradley and Thompson had one or more horses in every Derby except 1928 and 1931.
Ben Jones got his wish in 1948, tying Thompson for the Derby record. After the Derby, Citation returned to training in the name of Jimmy Jones.
The elder Ben did not need to worry, however. The following year (1949) he trained Ponder to win the 75th Derby, and three years later trained Derby winner Hill Gail. His record of six still stands.
Jimmy trained Iron Liege and Tim Tam for back-to-back Derby wins for Calumet Farm in 1957-58.
5. For more than three decades, Bradley resisted breeding his mares to the blood of Fair Play, who he felt produced “too many sulkers . . . dishonest and high-strung” runners.
Despite repeated offers from Samuel Riddle (owner of Fair Play’s best offspring, Man o’ War), the colonel never bred to the sport’s greatest runner in history. Finally, in 1940, Bradley agreed to breed to Man o’ War’s best son, War Admiral. One of the results was Busher, 2-year-old filly champion of 1944, and champion 3-year-old filly, handicap mare, and Horse of the Year in 1945. A member of the Hall of Fame, Busher is regularly ranked in the top five females of the 20th century.
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