Underappreciated Stars of the Early 20th Century: A Trio of Greats on the Track and Off

Hall of Fame racehorse Broomstick under Hall of Fame jockey Tommy Burns. (Keeneland Library/Cook Collection)

The first decade of the 20th Century is known for horses like Beldame, Colin, and Sysonby, names that have left their mark on the sport from races in their honor to spots in the Racing Hall of Fame. These years also saw other greats, like Broomstick, Sweep, and Celt, stars on the racetrack and later in the breeding shed.

More than a century later, these horses head a list of sires who helped bring us history makers, their impact on the sport lasting long past their days as racehorses.

Broomstick (1901-1931)

Broomstick (Keeneland Library/Hemment Collection)

H.P. McGrath’s McGrathiana Stud had produced a Kentucky Derby pioneer in Aristides, the winner of the inaugural edition, and Colonel Milton Young built on that legacy when he purchased the farm after McGrath’s death. There, he stood the stallion Hanover and produced Lady Sterling, dam of Sir Barton, among others.

In 1900, Young bought a mare named Elf from James R. Keene for a scant $250.

She had been covered by Ben Brush prior to her sale, but she was sold under the impression that she was not in foal. Imagine Young’s surprise when she foaled a colt by the 1896 Kentucky Derby winner. The colt was later sold in a package of yearlings to Captain Samuel Brown, a major stockholder in Churchill Downs who also owned Senorita Stud, the same land now known as the Kentucky Horse Park.

Despite his Kentucky interests, Broomstick raced primarily in New York, winning his first three stakes at age 2, including the Great American at Gravesend Race Track and the Juvenile Stakes at Morris Park. This excellent record meant the small colt carried more weight in his later races, and he was less successful. At 3, he was a versatile runner, winning the five-furlong Flying Handicap and then beating a short field of only three others in the Travers. He also set an American record for 1¼ miles in the Brighton Handicap, completing the ten furlongs in 2:02 4/5. At 4, he did not win a stakes, having the misfortune that year of running into Sysonby, who beat Broomstick in each of their meetings.

Brown retired his son of Ben Brush to stud the following year, standing him at Senorita Stud. Broomstick remained there until 1908, when the Senorita stock was dispersed after Brown’s 1905 death. Harry Payne Whitney bought the stallion for $7,250 and sent him to his Brookdale Farm in New Jersey. In his quarter-century at stud, Broomstick sired Kentucky Derby winners Regret and Meridian and celebrated handicappers Whisk Broom II and Cudgel. He was also the broodmare sire of horses like Gallant Fox’s rival Whichone and the excellent Whitney champion Equipoise.

Sweep (1907-1931)

Sweep gallops to the finish line. (Keeneland Library/Cook Collection)

Like Broomstick, Sweep was a smaller horse, but according to Abram Hewitt’s “Sire Lines,” he was longer bodied and became a mighty good stayer. As one of the last good horses bred at James R. Keene’s Castleton Stud, he was another colt by Ben Brush that carried his sire’s legacy on for another generation.

Out of the mare Pink Domino, a daughter of the short-lived but excellent sire Domino, Sweep raced eight times at age 2 for Keene, winning the vaunted Futurity Stakes by six lengths. He also took the National Stallion Stakes at Belmont Park and logged dual second-place finishes in the Saratoga Special and the Hopeful.

At 3, his Belmont Stakes win was an easy one: the race had only one other starter, Duke of Ormonde, and Sweep had no trouble putting away that lone rival. He showed his versatility that season, too, taking the Carlton Stakes at a mile and the 1⅝-mile Lawrence Realization. Keene retired his son of Ben Brush to stud after his 3-year-old season, standing him at Castleton until Keene’s death in 1913. At the Castleton dispersal sale, a group of Kentucky horsemen, including John Smith Barbee, purchased the stallion, who stood at Barbee’s Glen Helen Stud near Lexington.

In his 20 years at stud, Sweep led the general sire list twice, in 1918 and 1925, and produced The Porter, who carried on the Ben Brush line; a Kentucky Oaks winner in Untidy; and two broodmares fans may have heard of, Brushup and Dustwhirl. Those mares went on to foal War Admiral and Whirlaway, respectively, making Sweep the only stallion to become broodmare sire for two Triple Crown winners.

Celt (1903-1919)

Celt (Keeneland Library/Cook Collection)

Like his sire, Domino, Commando was a great racehorse on the track and later became a dominant sire on his own, getting 10 stakes winners from the scant 27 foals he produced. Commando mirrored his sire in an early death, after he stepped on a rock and then came down with tetanus. Despite his early exit, Commando managed to sire four stallions that carried on his line, including Celt and Colin.

Both colts raced for James R. Keene with the undefeated Colin turning out to be the dominant of the two. Celt raced only twice at age two because of soundness issues, winning the Junior Champion Stakes and finishing second in the Flatbush Stakes. At age 3, he beat both Fair Play and others in the 1 ¼-mile Brooklyn Handicap at Gravesend, setting a track record of 2:04⅕. He spread a hoof after that race and was not seen on the racetrack again at age 3 as he recovered. At 4, he tried to repeat in the 1909 Brooklyn Handicap, but was unable to duplicate his form from the year before. Keene retired Celt to stud after another hoof injury, initially sending him to Castleton in Kentucky.

Arthur B. Hancock leased Celt from Keene for two seasons, standing him at Ellerslie in Virginia. After Keene’s death in 1913, Hancock bought the stallion at the Castleton dispersal sale, paying $20,000 for this son of Commando. It was a fortuitous purchase for Hancock and Ellerslie: even though Celt died at 14 in 1919, he led the general sire list in 1921 and led the broodmare sire list in 1930. In his last crop, foaled in 1920, he sired a chestnut filly out of the English mare Fairy Ray. Sold to William Woodward, Marguerite foaled Gallant Fox, the second Triple Crown winner, making this second fiddle to Colin a first-rate broodmare sire.

Legacies Beyond Time  

Broomstick, Sweep, and Celt won their share of America’s important stakes races, notching their names on long list of the sport’s best. Those wins gave them a boost as they went to stud, but it was the horses they produced that connected all three to history, from the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby to three Triple Crown winners. Their names may be less familiar to modern fans, yet we celebrate their impact during classic season each year.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!