He was a great leviathan of a horse standing just shy of 18 hands and was nicknamed The Big Train in recognition of his size and his weight carrying ability.
He was slow to mature and raced only a handful of times as a two and three year old. But starting at four years old, he showed the enormous talent he possessed and was considered the greatest sprinter in American Turf history.
Roseben was foaled at Dixiana Farm in 1901. His sire was the imported Ben Strome who won the 1889 St. James Palace Stakes and was third in the Jersey Stakes. Ben Strome was a son of Bend Or and was described as a big strong horse with legs of iron. Roseben’s dam was the unraced Rose Leaf who was a daughter of Duke of Montrose the sire of the 1887 Kentucky Derby winner, Montrose.
After breaking his maiden at three in 1904 at Morris Park, Roseben was promptly auctioned off with Davy Johnson securing him with a winning bid of $3,800. Under the new ownership, he finished his three year old season with a second in the Inaugural Handicap.
As a four year old in 1905, Roseben started well winning several handicaps and accounting for his first stakes victory in the Toboggan Handicap. In June of that year, Johnson placed Roseben in the capable hands of Frank D. Weir who would train him for some of his greatest triumphs. A decade later, Weir would condition another champion in Old Rosebud.
In the Bronx Highweight Handicap that October, Roseben carried 140 pounds and won by five lengths while giving runner up Ancestor 50 pounds. Two days later Roseben carried 147 pounds in the Manhattan Handicap, conceding between 42-49 pounds to his rivals and setting a new American record for six furlongs.
Four days after that, he won a seven-furlong allowance by 10 lengths and set a Belmont Park track record for the distance. Indeed at one point in 1905, Roseben won four races in the short span of nine days by a total of 40 lengths.
His 1906 campaign as a five year old began on an auspicious note with a win in the Carter Handicap and a scant week later taking the Sterling Stakes. Roseben then tried his luck in the mile Metropolitan and the 1 mile and 1/16 Excelsior. He led from the start but tired badly to finish fifth in both races while carrying top weight.
Back to his preferred distances, Roseben set another track record at Belmont for 7 1/2 furlongs. His greatest achievement that year was in lowering the American record for seven furlongs. It would be thirty years before this time was equaled and almost fifty years before it was broken.
As a 6-year-old in 1907, Roseben’s best race was at Brighton Beach where he equaled the track record for six furlongs while toting a bone crushing 147 and giving almost 60 pounds to the second place finisher.
In 1908, he won nine of 26 starts and took his act on the road and won three races in California before returning to New York.
As an 8-year-old in 1909, Roseben was to be found plying his trade in several claiming races. He notched his last victory at Belmont in a claiming race on May 29 where he was offered for sale for the lowly price of $1,000.
The Big Train came to the end of the line on July 1st where he bowed a tendon after leading in the stretch at Sheepshead Bay. This would be his 111 and final start.
Having raced at over 16 tracks, Roseben retired with a record of 111 starts 52 victories 25 seconds and 12 thirds with earnings of $75,110. He epitomized the classic definition of a sprinter where only eight of his starts were at a mile or more.
It was his weight carrying ability that set him apart from all his contemporaries. Roseben set six American records while toting top weight in almost all of his starts.
He carried 130 or more in 59 races. In addition he toted 140 pounds in 29 races winning 14 of them. Roseben won under 144, 146 and four times with 147. In the 1905 Manhattan Handicap, he set a new American record while carrying 147 pounds and spotting the second place horse at least 42 pounds. Roseben repeated this feat the following year with the only difference being that the second place horse got an even greater pull in the weights.
The Big Train found the load of 150 pounds at Gravesend in 1906 a bigger freight than he could carry. But he tried valiantly under the impost that day to finish second by a little over a length.
He died at the age of seventeen having been used as a ladies side saddle horse for several years. Roseben was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956. Walter S. Vosburgh, who saw many great runners of the American Turf, considered Roseben the best sprinter of his generation or any other generation for that matter.