Brass Hat is dream come true for Providence native Bradley

By CLIFF GUILLIAMS, Gleaner columnist
February 19, 2006

Brass Hat may be the most improbable horse of the year.

Like all breeder-owners, Fred Bradley held eternal hope. But he never expected that a mare purchased as a yearling for $5,000 who never had raced would produce a champion.

Or that Prized, a stallion standing for $3,500 that's been moved to-and-from several states, would sire him.

Bradley's son and trainer, William "Buff," who foaled the now 5-year-old gelding at the family's farm in Frankfort, certainly had no clue.

In 2004, when Brass Hat's racing career began at Turfway Park, neither bettors nor would-be buyers witnessed much.

So everyone was stunned by Gulfstream Park's $500,000 Donn Handicap on Feb. 4, when Brass Hat rallied through the slop from off the pace, trouncing a strong field by five lengths. The win placed Brass Hat atop America's handicap division.

By capturing the Donn Handicap and Grade II New Orleans Handicap at Louisiana Downs on Jan. 7, Brass Hat earned an expenses-paid trip on March 25 to Dubai for the $6 million World Cup.

"About the only time we haven't been lucky with Brass Hat was when we gelded him," said Fred Bradley, a Providence, Ky., native, retired Air Force officer, former state senator and judge who caught the racing bug at Ellis Park in the late 1930s.

The Bradleys have receive high-dollar offers for Brass Hat, but aren't interested. "I'm not a wealthy man," said Fred. "Oh, I get by nicely with Social Security and pensions from the Air Force, senate and from spending 14 years as a judge.

"But this horse isn't about money. He's about my family. How hard we've all worked to get one as talented as he is and the fun and joy he's brought us. He's a dream come true.

"I guess the only mistake we made was gelding him, probably a several million dollar mistake. But we usually geld them all, been doing this since 1963. Luck plays so much into a thing like this. You don't breed a $5,000 mare that never raced to a $25,000 stud. That's why she went to Prized. I liked him. He won the Breeders' Cup Turf. But you never expect this."

Brass Hat finished second in his first start and could have been claimed for $15,000. Next, they tried him against straight maidens. He was second again, and they were offered $65,000. "Seemed like a huge sum. We accepted," said Fred.

The horse didn't pass the buyer's veterinary inspection. The buyers backed out.

Luck or fate?

Thinking the deal was completed, the would-be purchasers paid $100 to nominate Brass Hat to Turfway's $100,000 Rushaway Stakes. The Bradleys ran the horse in the stakes, and at 35-1, he won nicely.

"See how things go," said Fred. "You've got to be lucky, or living right, or something."

Brass Hat spent last summer recovering from ankle surgery. Fred Bradley, visiting the press box at Ellis Park, vowed that the horse would come back strong.

He did.

From 13 career starts, Brass Hat, whose name is derived from his dam Brassy -- "and officers in the military wear brass on their hats signifying they're in charge," noted Fred -- has posted six wins (a Grade I and three Grade IIs) and four seconds while earning $1,217,090.

The Dubai World Cup is the world's richest race. If Brass Hat can win it, his improbable story will span the globe.

As for Fred? "In the Air Force, I landed on every continent, a lot of places, but never Dubai. I'm going to love this because they're paying. They pay $108,000 back to sixth place. We ought to get something back. And have a ton of fun doing it.

"Brass Hat has brought us an unbelievable amount of joy. He's proved what Buff can do training a good horse. That's why Brass Hat never will be for sale."

- You can contact Cliff Guilliams by e-mail at