Brass Hat trainer seeks brass ring
Bradley thought he had it before DQ in Dubai race
By Jennie Rees
While enthusiastic about running Brass Hat in Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, trainer Buff Bradley still hasn't gotten over what happened in the 5-year-old gelding's last race.
Losing $1.2 million can do that to a person.
While the Brass Hat camp still was reveling in its second-place finish in the $6 million Dubai World Cup, the gelding was disqualified for showing a trace level of a medication that Bradley says was administered 28 days before the March 25 race. Dubai requires horses to be medication-free for racing.
"I took my 11-year-old daughter over there; we had a great time, a wonderful time," Bradley said. "Now I can't hardly say 'Dubai' without getting sick. My daughter said, 'I think we should just have a big bonfire and throw our Dubai shirts, jackets, saddle towel, everything we received right into the fire.' It's just that we don't want to have the memories of being robbed. And that's what we feel like happened."
The disqualification, which Bradley is appealing, would rank as the costliest in racing. Bearing the brunt is Bradley's father, Fred, a former state senator from Frankfort who bred and owns Brass Hat. But Buff Bradley and jockey Willie Martinez are out $120,000 apiece in purse commissions, a huge amount for a trainer and jockey who don't have many big-money opportunities.
Also taking a hit are Buff Bradley's employees, including thousands of dollars for the groom and exercise rider.
The appeal is scheduled to be heard June 26 via teleconference.
"I was not optimistic about it, but my father said, 'You've done the right thing. I'll fight it all the way,' " said Buff Bradley, who also was fined $5,400. "He's more in it for me than the money for himself. It's really just, 'Stand up for what's right.' "
Brass Hat, winner of the New Orleans and Donn handicaps, led until 100 yards out at the World Cup, finishing second to Godolphin's locally based Electrocutionist. Nine days later Buff Bradley received a call saying Brass Hat's postrace drug test had come back positive for methylprednisolone. It's used in the accepted procedure known as injecting joints, which veterinarians perform on occasion to reduce inflammation and promote the orthopedic well-being in a horse.
In the United States, such treatments are permissible as close as several days before a race. Bradley said he received a document from Bill Greely, the former Keeneland president who works as a World Cup representative, specifying recommended withdrawal times of medications, including 23 days before a race for methylprednisolone.
To play it safe, Bradley said Brass Hat's hocks were injected 28 days beforehand. He says he first checked with veterinarians with experience treating Dubai-bound horses to make sure there would be no problems.
Buff Bradley said the Hong Kong lab that did a confirmation testing at his request detected methylprednisolone at a level below 6 nanograms per milliliter of plasma. A nanogram is a part per billion.
He believes the DQ should ring alarm bells for American trainers thinking about sending horses to Dubai. It's a dramatic version of an issue being played out in Kentucky, with horsemen saying they need not only withdrawal guidelines but stated threshold levels.
"I understand they have zero tolerance," Bradley said. "But with what I received and the withdrawal date, I felt I was going to be safe -- and even doing it farther out than what they suggested."
Bradley said he wouldn't even let groom Willie Woods give Brass Hat peppermints for the two weeks before the race, just in case another medication had inadvertently gotten on the groom's hands.
Woods, who while working for Neil Howard was the groom for 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall, had earmarked his Dubai stakes earnings for a down payment on some property but is philosophical about its loss.
"I always say if the horse comes back good, everything is going to be all right," he said. "We'll get another shot. … It stung at first. But I didn't have it, so I didn't miss it. I still feel real good about the horse."
Now there's the matter of the Stephen Foster at 11/8 miles. Brass Hat is the 5-2 favorite in a field of 10 older horses that includes 2003 Foster winner Perfect Drift, 2005 Santa Anita Derby winner Buzzards Bay, 2004 Pennsylvania Derby winner Love of Money and multiple-stakes winner West Virginia.
"He couldn't be doing any better," said Bradley, who after Dubai gave his stable star a month off at his father's Frankfort farm, where Brass Hat was born and raised. "This is a horse you never have to get nervous about, because you know he's going to run hard every time."
Meanwhile, the Bradleys have put off any bonfires.
"We'll wait for the appeal to be over," Buff said with a laugh, "Just in case they say, 'Oh, we were so wrong.' "