Fred Bradley's homebred Brass Hat, a Grade I winner off for nearly a year after suffering a leg injury during a workout, moved closer to a return to competition on Saturday with a solid four-furlong work at Churchill Downs.
The 6-year-old gelded son of Prized breezed the half-mile over a "fast" track in :50.40, a training move that ranked 29th out of 39 at the distance. Aboard was jockey Willie Martinez, who rode the veteran to a victory in the 2006 Donn Handicap (Grade I) at Gulfstream Park for trainer William "Buff" Bradley, the owner/breeder's son.
Brass Hat is preparing to return from a vacation prompted by a fractured sesamoid in his right front ankle suffered during a workout at Churchill Downs' Trackside Louisville training center in late June. He has not competed since a troubled fifth-place finish behind Seek Gold in the $750,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) in 2006.
Bradley's veteran, a notoriously unenthusiastic work horse, turned heads in a May 20 work in which he breezed four furlongs in an uncharacteristically quick :48.60 - but both Martinez and Bradley said he was more focused that day after two other horses broke off in front of him for a work.
"He felt good," said Martinez. "He's not a great worker. The last time he went in :48 and he was more in the bridle. Today he was more relaxed and he galloped out strong. He felt good and he felt within himself."
"He worked very well, but he worked a little slower," said Bradley. "He just had a couple of horses break off in front of him last week. He gets a little bit more focused when he's got something in front of him and today there was an empty track at that time - which was good. The main thing is to always hear from Willie that everything went well and he switched his leads and that he was comfortable - and I know Willie is going to tell me exactly what went on with him."
Brass Hat has been away from racing since he injured the ankle while pulling up after a workout at Churchill Downs' Trackside Louisville training center last June. But the injury was allowed to heal naturally with time on the Bradley family's 300-acre Indian Ridge Farm near Frankfort, Ky. He had gone through a similar process on the farm after he injured the same ankle at three during the running of the Lone Star Derby (GIII) at Lone Star Park. He was off from late October of 2005 until late November of the following year.
After that injury, Brass Hat returned in style with three consecutive stakes victories that included the Donn, the New Orleans Handicap (GII) at the Fair Grounds, and Turfway Park's Prairie Bayou. That streak ended in a runner-up finish in last year's $6 million Dubai World Cup (GI) to Godolphin's Electrocutionist. The placing and purse were eventually taken away because of a medication infraction in Dubai - but it was a stellar effort that stamped Brass Hat as one of the best horses in the world.
Bradley and Martinez say that Brass Hat is telling them in the mornings that he is ready to come back to racing as good as he left it nearly a year ago. His trainer hopes the first step in his comeback will come at Churchill Downs sometime before the Spring Meet ends on July 8, and Brass Hat is flashing signals after his works that he is nearly ready to go.
"I really still hope we're going to make the end of the meet," Bradley said. "He didn't hardly drink any water and he doesn't blow. It's just like he galloped. Willie said after his last work that it didn't even seem like he had been gone that long."
"The main thing is that physically he just feels there and his attitude the is the same," said Martinez. "Really, nothing much has changed on him. Hopefully we'll get the same Brass Hat we had last year when he was at his peak."
Brass Hat's career record stands at 6-4-0 in 15 races with earnings of $1,233,473.