As an 8-year-old, it would seem logical that Brass Hat would be nearing the end of long and eventful career, one which has seen him overcome a pair of serious injuries that nearly ended his ability to compete. But trainer William “Buff” Bradley can only go by what the son of Prized is telling him, and right now, he is still begging to run some more.
“He’s never looked better or felt better,” said Bradley, who trains the homebred for his father, Fred. “He acts like a four of five-year-old. In fact, he came off the track today playing.
“We’ve always said there would be two reasons to stop racing him – if he wasn’t sound or didn’t have the desire to compete any more. Right now, he looks and feels super, and he still enjoys it.”
On May 23 at Churchill Downs, Bradley will saddle his remarkable gelding in the $100,000 Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT), where he will take on eight rivals in the 1 1/2-mile turf event. Post time for the feature is set for 5:29 p.m. EDT.
In the Louisville, Brass Hat will have to take down probable favorite Spice Route, who beat him by 2 1/4 lengths in the Elkhorn (gr. IIT) on April 24 at Keeneland. Spice Route, trained by Roger Attfield, was assigned top weight of 121 pounds.
Despite being defeated, Bradley was very pleased with Brass Hat’s effort in the 1 1/2-mile Elkhorn, which came up very strong. Sent off at 17-1, Brass Hat made a big move on the far turn, was within striking distance in upper stretch and then flattened out a bit to finish third under Calvin Borel.
“We were disappointed that he didn’t win but we thought he ran like his old self,” Bradley said. “He proved that he could compete with top horses still. He’s been training excellent and I really think he is still moving forward. I’m looking for a big effort.”
Brass Hat, who is out of the Dixie Brass mare Brassy, has produced an 8-5-2 record from 29 career starts and has earned more than $1.8 million. The fan favorite’s biggest wins have come in the grade II 2004 Ohio and Indiana Derbys, and the 2006 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) and Donn Handicap (gr. I). The bay also scored in the Massachusetts Handicap in September of 2007, which marked his last trip to the winner’s circle.
Although Brass Hat is winless in seven career starts on grass, he has hit the board three times. Borel, who has two Louisville wins to his credit, will have the mount once again.
“We have a hot jock going for us, so maybe this will be his time to get a win on grass," Bradley said. "He’s certainly going into the race the right way. Even if he doesn’t win though, I think he can still compete in some minor stakes or high allowance races for a while. He has a large fan base and people love seeing him run.”
Harlequin Ranches and partners’ Spice Route seems to be in the finest form of his career. The 5-year-old King's Best gelding won the Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Calder to close out his 2008 campaign and missed by only 1 1/2 lengths in the Feb. 21 Mac Diarmida (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream before scoring in the Elkhorn.
A winner of five of 19 lifetime starts, English-bred Spice Route will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan for the first time.
Jockey Robby Albarado, who shares the stakes record of four Louisville victories with Steve Brooks and Larry Melancon, will go for his fifth aboard Always First, runner-up in the 2007 race. The Thomas Voss trainee was fifth in the Elkhorn.
$100,000 Louisville Handicap (gr. III, Race 10, 5:29 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)