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Brass Hat returns on Churchill's closing day

Brass Hat scored his biggest career victory in the 2006 Donn (Eleanor Gustafson/
Grade 1 hero BRASS HAT (Prized), who suffered a potentially career-threatening sesamoid injury last July, will make his long-awaited return to competition on Sunday's closing-day card at Churchill Downs. Trainer Buff Bradley thus achieved his goal of getting the six-year-old gelding back in action by the end of the meet. Carded as the 6TH race, the 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming event is hardly a soft spot, with Grade 1 veteran PERFECT DRIFT (Dynaformer) also in the line-up.

Brass Hat had already recovered from one serious setback to become a major player in the handicap ranks last year. The bay was a talented three-year-old in 2004, capturing the Ohio Derby (G2) and Indiana Derby (G2), before sustaining a condylar fracture of his right front cannon bone. Sidelined for more than a year, he came back in late 2005 and vaulted into prominence with scores in the 2006 New Orleans H. (G2) and Donn H. (G1). In the latter, he set a new track record of 1:47 3/5 for nine furlongs at Gulfstream Park. Brass Hat then finished an excellent second in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1), only to be disqualified because of a medication violation. In his only subsequent start, he wound up fifth in the Stephen Foster H. (G1).

Ironically, Brass Hat's reappearance comes almost a year to the day after he suffered a fractured sesamoid in his right front ankle at the conclusion of a workout. Given plenty of time to heal, he returned to the worktab on May 20 and has been training sharply.

"It ought to be a good race," Bradley said. "I'm just excited to get to run him, basically. As I told my dad (owner Fred Bradley), we're just hoping for a good effort and let him come out of it healthy and ready to go for the next one. I think he'll run big."

Regular rider Willie Martinez will guide Brass Hat from post 7.

Perfect Drift will try to snap a 14-race losing streak, with his last victory coming in the Washington Park H. (G2) in July 2005. The Murray Johnson-trained eight-year-old has turned in several excellent efforts in defeat since then, including a heart-breaking loss in last year's Stephen Foster, but he's exiting one of his worst performances. Perfect Drift shipped to Hollywood Park for the Californian S. (G2) and didn't enjoy the Cushion Track, winding up a disappointing last of 10.

Johnson was originally hoping to use this contest as a confidence-builder.

"It looks like a tough spot to do that, but he's doing good," Johnson said. "He's at home and happy on the track, and everything should go right. We gave him a little bit of easy time since California, and he's come back good. He seems to be as eager and keen as ever."

Perfect Drift will get the services of Julien Leparoux, who rode him to a strong second-place finish in the Kentucky Cup Classic (G2) last September.

Other notables in the eight-horse field are Grade 2 winner SPELLBINDER (Tale of the Cat), Maxxam Gold Cup H. victor STUDENT COUNCIL (Kingmambo), and Grade 3 veterans M B SEA (Alphabet Soup) and REAL DANDY (Yankee Victor).

The closing-day feature is the $150,000 Locust Grove H. (G3) for distaffers on the grass. The Bill Mott-trained QUITE A BRIDE (Stormy Atlantic), who set a new course record when romping in the Mint Julep H. (G3) here last time out, will shoulder the top weight of 123 pounds in the nine-furlong test. Her five opponents include LEMONS FOREVER (Lemon Drop Kid), last year's Kentucky Oaks (G1) queen. The Dallas Stewart filly is coming off an impressive, 3 1/4-length tally over the Churchill turf, and will try to duplicate that performance in Grade 3 company.

MAURALAKANA (Fr) (Muhtathir [Fr]), a four-length allowance winner over the course in May, will attempt to bounce back from a fourth in the Just a Game S. (G2) at Belmont. Todd Pletcher will be represented by QUIET ROYAL (Royal Academy), successful in the Reluctant Guest S. at Arlington most recently.