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
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
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
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.
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
- You can contact Cliff Guilliams by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org