KENTUCKY DERBY HISTORY: THE “FIGHTING FINISH”

The 1933 Kentucky Derby stands as the most contentious in the history of the race.  It has this distinction because the winning and second-placed jockeys physically attacked one another during and after the running.

Colonel E. R. Bradley owned the declared winner Brokers Tip, a maiden coming in to the Kentucky Derby, who had been born with a deformed foot and could not stand on his own as a weanling.  He eventually overcame this infirmity and ran with the aid of special shoeing.  Brokers Tip was sired by Black Toney, also the sire of the 1924 Kentucky Derby winner Black Gold.

The favorite in the 59th Kentucky Derby 13-horse field was the entry of Ladysman, the champion 2-year-old of 1932, and Pomponious.  However, the race turned out to be a two-horse duel between Brokers Tip, ridden by Don Meade, and Head Play, with Herb Fisher aboard.

The book Portraits of Kentucky Derby Winners, by Beverly Bryant, described how the race played out:

“At the top of the stretch jockey Herb Fisher, unware that Brokers Tip was coming up behind him, took Head Play wide to ride out Charley O, a fatal mistake as Don Meade then pushed Brokers Tip through the hole left by Head Play.  Fisher, thinking he had the race won, came back to do battle neck and neck with Brokers Tip, but Head Play was ‘out of gas’ from running wide, and Fisher made his desperate (physical) lunge to stop Meade.  Past the wire, Fisher stood in his stirrups and slashed at Meade with his whip…Back in the jockey’s room, [Fisher] attacked Meade and they fought viciously until reporters and valets broke them up.”

To be more specific, as the horses approached the finish line, Fisher grabbed Meade’s saddle and Meade retaliated by grabbing Fisher’s shoulder.

In a vast understatement, the official chart of the race said about the incident that Head Play “bumped the winner.”

The 1933 Kentucky Derby did not have the benefit of a precise finish-line photo, so four stewards awarded the race to Brokers Tip.  No one knows for sure who actually won.

Arguably, the most famous photo in the annals of American horse racing was taken by {Louisville) Courier-Journal photographer Wallace Lowry, who took a picture of the “Fighting Finish” from beneath the rail near the finish line.  Click here to see the photo and a narrative about the race.

With Charlie Kurtsinger in the saddle, Head Play won the Preakness and Brokers Tip broke down in the race.  Brokers Tip came back as a 6-year-old but was unplaced in five starts.  His lone career win was in the Kentucky Derby.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

The series on Kentucky Derby history began on February 20 and ends on May 1.

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