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Bad breaks don't stop Brass Hat
Horse has broken leg twice, but races on; entered in Whitney
By TIM WILKIN, Staff writer
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First published: Friday, July 27, 2007

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The story of Brass Hat puts Rocky Balboa to shame. It's also better than Seabiscuit, if you can believe that. Cinderella Man? How about Cinderella Thoroughbred?

After you learn the tale, you too will be a fan of the 6-year-old gelding who has defied the odds twice and now shows up to run in the 80th running of the prestigious Whitney Handicap Saturday afternoon at Saratoga Race Course.

He didn't get much respect from Eric Donovan, the oddsmaker for the New York Racing Association. Despite winning seven of 16 career races, Brass Hat is 20-1 on the morning line.

"I was amazed at those odds," said 76-year-old Fred Bradley, who owns the horse. "I thought we would be 6-1, maybe 8-1."

Well, there is one teeny-weeny little reason why Brass Hat might not be getting the love. He broke his right front leg ... twice. Two separate accidents, two different places.

That's the honest-to-goodness truth.

And, now, here he is, competing with the best handicap horses standing in the country.

"This is a one-of-a-kind story," said Kentucky based Willie Martinez, Brass Hat's regular jockey. "How many horses do you know who break the same leg in different places and come back and run the way he has run?"

"He really has been a good story," said trainer William "Buff" Bradley, the 44-year-old son of the owner. "I still hope we have a lot more chapters."

Here's his story: After winning the Lone Star Derby in Texas in October of 2004, Brass Hat had a condylar fracture in his right front leg. Often times, that sends a horse to immediate retirement. But, since he was a gelding, Bradley figured if he healed nicely, maybe he could run again.

Brass Hat healed nicely and returned to the races in November of '05. After finishing seventh in his return, he won three races in a row, including the Grade I Donn Handicap in Florida. He set a track record at Gulfstream Park that day.

It was no fluke. He then went to Dubai and finished second in the Dubai World Cup in '06.

Then, after a nice vacation, he ran in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in June of last year. Following that, there was another setback when he fractured the sesamoid bone in the same leg.

Surely, this would be the end of the road for Brass Hat. It was only the beginning. Brass Hat healed up again and returned to the races on July 8 and won a 1 1/16 -mile race at Churchill. The time of 1:41 was a track record.

What broken leg?

"He just has a big heart, what can I say?" Martinez said. "He brings out the best in me and the best out of a lot of other people, too."

Buff Bradley never expected much from Brass Hat, who showed zero interest in the mornings when he was learning to become a racehorse.

"He never outworked a horse in his life," Buff Bradley said. "His confirmation wasn't that great and he never gave me any indication, until he ran, that he would even be much of a claiming horse."

The light went on for Brass Hat when he started racing. He not only liked it, he was pretty darn good at it.

Now, here he is, getting ready to run in the Whitney, which drew a field of 12 (the Todd Pletcher-trained Magna Graduate is the 7-2 morning-line favorite).

Martinez said Brass Hat doesn't run like a horse who knows he has had trouble with his right leg. He doesn't favor it, doesn't appear scared of running. It's quite the opposite. It's like it never happened.

He has become something of a folk hero back home in Kentucky. The Bradleys see it, Martinez does, too.

"More than ever," Martinez said. "People see him coming out on the track and they wonder if that's the old broken down horse. It's great. It's a blast having him back. Believe me, you are going to write something about this horse on Saturday."

Tim Wilkin can be reached at 454-5415 or by e-mail at