Monday, July 9, 2007

Brass Hat looks polished in rebound win
Horse sets record after 2nd fracture

By Jennie Rees
The Courier-Journal

Brass Hat was golden yesterday, setting a Churchill Downs track record while beating Student Council by a head in a $61,000 allowance race -- marking the second time the ultimate comeback kid has returned from a year's layoff after fracturing his right foreleg.

Half of the state's capital city seemed to be in the winner's circle with the 6-year-old millionaire, who is owned and bred by former Kentucky state senator Fred Bradley of Frankfort, Ky., and trained by his son, Buff.

Brass Hat battled slight favorite Student Council through the stretch before finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.27 under Willie Martinez. Churchill's closing-day crowd of 9,335 engaged in a Brass Hat lovefest, especially as word spread that a 37-year-old record had fallen.

"In church this morning, everybody was saying, 'How's the Hat going to do?' " Fred Bradley said. "I said, 'I hope he wins.' That's all you can say. I didn't know how he would come back. Now I've got to worry about where to run him next."

Wherever it is, it will be a more ambitious spot, although the allowance race was graded-stakes caliber.

"I thought he was doing better than last year; Willie thought he was doing better than last year," Buff Bradley said. "But you don't know until you go out there and run. They fought all the way to the wire. I wouldn't have cared if he was three seconds off the track record.

"I wasn't really nervous until I thought of all my friends and family that were going to be here today. I don't want to let them down, either. But I knew Brass Hat would be back to his old self after he got a race in him. I didn't expect this today, no. If he stays healthy, look out."

Perfect Drift, the 8-year-old with $4.6 million in earnings, finished fifth -- though only a neck out of third -- in the field of six older horses.

Brass Hat clipped Yes Sir's 1970 track record of 1:41 3/5 on a frozen track. Track superintendent Butch Lehr said it had been one of two track records remaining since he took the top post in 1981. The last is Secretariat's 1:59 2/5 for 1 ¼ miles in the 1973 Kentucky Derby.

Yesterday the track was quickened by the humidity. Two races later, Indian Chant set the track record for six furlongs with 1:07.55 in an allowance race, nipping Kelly's Landing's mark of 1:07.59. Despite the fast track, Indian Chant is a fast horse in his own right, Lehr said. He earned a 110 Beyer speed figure in his previous start.

"It will make a track different by about a full second," Lehr said of the humidity. " … I think everything was perfect today. I really don't like to see two track records in one day. But if you look at the horses and their charts, you can see the horses are capable."

Brass Hat, of humble breeding, went from losing a cheap maiden-claiming race in 2004 to becoming the Bradleys' first graded stakes-winner, then fractured his leg for the first time that October. He returned in November 2005 and won Gulfstream's Grade I Donn Handicap in 2006.

The gelding finished second in the $6 million Dubai World Cup that year, then was disqualified from the $1.2 million runner-up purse for a controversial medication infraction. Brass Hat finished fifth in Churchill's 2006 Stephen Foster and fractured his leg again soon after.

Perhaps the only person who might have been happier than the Bradleys at having Brass Hat back was Martinez, the Kentucky mainstay who has struggled for mounts amid Churchill's tough riding colony.

"As good of luck as we've had, we've had some bad luck. So we didn't want to jinx ourselves," said Martinez, who won his second race of the meet. "He's just an amazing horse. Honestly, we didn't think we'd have him back (to the races). All the credit goes to Brass Hat.

"He's done wonders for myself, for the Bradleys. How many horses do you know who break down and come back and perform at this level? I look for nothing but great things."

Jennie Rees can be reached at (502) 582-4042.

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