SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Considering he is the 11th-ranked money-winning thoroughbred of all time, Broad Brush doesn't get much respect. He has never been hailed as a great star, and when he runs in Saturday's Whitney Handicap he may be only the co-favorite, along with Java Gold, who has not won a stakes all year.
Perhaps Broad Brush is slighted because he comes from Maryland instead of one of the glamor stables of New York or California. Perhaps it is because he tends to win his races as narrowly and economically as possible, instead of blowing away the opposition. Perhaps some racing fans overlook he has been conceding an enormous amount of weight to formidable rivals.
Trainer Dick Small bristles when he hears criticism of the 4-year-old. "I know I've become overly sensitive," he admitted. "But I know how special this horse is."
Broad Brush is probably best appreciated for his overall record rather than any single performance. Although he has scored some dramatic victories -- such as his thrilling photo-finish decision in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap last winter -- he makes the highlights films just as often for his misdeeds: getting disqualified in the Travers Stakes last year, bolting on the turn of the Pennsylvania Derby.
What has been most amazing about him has been his consistency and durability. "Over the last two years," Small said, "he's run in all but two calendar months. Try to find another horse like that. He's made of the right stuff."
Small said that Broad Brush has suffered from the same kinds of troubles most other horses do. "The difference," the trainer said, "is that he gets over them. He's durable. After he ran at Canterbury Downs last year, his back shoe was broken in half and blood was coming out; the vet wanted to take him off the track in an ambulance. But by the time he was home he was fine, and he was right back in training."
Small knows that this luck may not always hold; Broad Brush is such a strong horse that he needs hard training and steady activity to stay fit. He can't be babied. But for the time being, Small's main worry, and Broad Brush's main obstacle, has been weight, not infirmity.
At this stage of the season, a high-class 4-year-old has few alternatives to running in handicap races, where he must pay the price for his past success. When he faced the ace New England star Waquoit, who is undefeated this season, Broad Brush had to carry 126 to his tough rival's 117 -- and lost by a nose. His task at Saratoga on Saturday might be even more difficult, for most of his rivals are 3-year-olds who are entitled to automatic weight concessions. Broad Brush will tote 127 pounds, compared to 117 for Gulch, 116 for Gone West and 113 for Java Gold.
"Fortunately," Small said, "this is the last race where he have to worry a lot about weight this year." Broad Brush's next start will be in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont and that, like most of the major remaining races of the year, are weight-for-age events rather than handicaps. Small said Broad Brush's main objectives include New York's fall championship series and the Washington, D.C. International. He probably wouldn't run in the Breeders' Cup (where he would have to pay a $360,000 supplementary entry fee), but he will compete next year as a 5-year-old.
Running at level weights, Broad Brush figures to win some of the country's richest, most prestigious stakes this fall. And if he stays healthy enough to compete throughout his 5-year-old season, he is going to climb very near the top of the all-time money-winning list. Even if his contemporaries do not fully appreciate Small's horse, history will remember him.