From Humble Beginnings to the Top of the World
From Humble Beginnings to the Top of the World


Another year is upon us and soon the pastures will be full of new babies who will carry the hopes and dreams of their owners and breeders. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent in some cases just to see a live foal hit the ground. Thousands of these new babies will be prepped for upcoming sales throughout the country. And before this year is through we will hear countless stories of multimillion-dollar purchases at sales from Kentucky to New York to California. Hidden beneath that glamorous façade is a story that touches the heart of every small-time owner and breeder, and in fact, of every true fan of this great game – the story of Brass Hat.


Brass Hat isn’t from royal lineage. He is the product of a $5,000 mare and a $3,500 stallion. He wasn’t born at a storied farm in the heart of central Kentucky, but miles away in Frankfort, at Indian Ridge. In May of 2001 he was pulled from his mother by former Kentucky Senator Fred Bradley and his son William, a father and son team who have approached racing as a family affair. Fred is the owner and breeder of Brass Hat while William (“Buff”) does the training. It was at Indian Ridge that Brass Hat came into the world, and began a journey that would take the Bradley family to places never dreamed.


Given his humble beginning it was no surprise to see Brass Hat make his career debut at a low level, a $15,000 maiden claiming race at Turfway Park in January 2004, a race in which he was 32/1. That day Brass Hat rallied from far back through the snow and finished second. It would be his last appearance in a claiming race. Following another second-place finish, this time against straight maiden company, Brass Hat jumped into the spotlight when he scored his first victory in the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes. While father and son may have always “had the feeling,” it was at this point that everyone else knew that Brass Hat could be something special.


Let’s face it. Horses from humble beginnings are not supposed to knock off their million-dollar brothers and sisters who have been groomed for success. Apparently Brass Hat didn’t understand the perceived hierarchy of racing. He simply went about his business as a racehorse. In the world of thoroughbreds you can’t buy or breed “heart” and that was something Brass Hat had plenty of.


Following his win in the Rushaway Stakes Brass Hat went on to finish second in the $111,000 Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland, and followed that with a 4th-place effort behind turf sensation Kitten’s Joy in the American Turf-G3 at Churchill Downs. He returned to the winner’s circle in June of 2004 when he won the Ohio Derby-G2 at Thistledown while 21/1. After getting a few months rest at Indian Ridge he returned in October at Hoosier Park and ran away with the Indiana Derby-G2, this time at 10/1. Brass Hat was piling up the wins and the money, but he was still getting little respect. That was about to change four weeks later in Texas as he loaded into the starting gate for the Lone Star Derby-G3 as the race favorite at odds of 2/1. Unfortunately he finished a distant 9th that day and was taken off the track in an ambulance. It was soon discovered that he had a condylar fracture of his right front ankle, an injury that could end his career and potentially his life.


So it was back home to Indian Ridge. Hoping that he could one day return to racing, but more than anything hoping that he could lead a normal life after the serious injury, Fred and “Buff” allowed Brass Hat to roam the pastures and recuperate for 13 months. Only after they were convinced he was healthy would they allow him to return to the racetrack. In November of 2005 Brass Hat was back in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. He finished 7th in a turf race that day but the results were inconsequential. Just 23 days later he returned to the main track at Turfway Park and served notice to all that he was back, running away with the $50,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes. A month later he was in Louisiana and back in the winners circle, posting another runaway win in the New Orleans Handicap-G2. Was it possible that Brass Hat had come back from a potential career-ending injury with even more heart than he showed earlier in this career? We were about to find out.


On a gloomy, rainy Saturday in south Florida Brass Hat loaded into the starting gate at Gulfstream Park for his first attempt against Grade I company, the echelon of thoroughbred racing. While not the strongest field ever assembled for the Donn Handicap-G1, Brass Hat would nonetheless be facing his stiffest competition to date. Lining up against him, among others, were Magna Graduate and Suave, the one-two finishers from the prestigious Clark Handicap-G2 at Churchill Downs; Super Frolic who had finished a close 4th in the Breeders Cup Classic-G1; On Thin Ice who was coming off an impressive win in the local Hal’s Hope-G3; and a trio of runners from Nick Zito headed by Andromeda’s Hero, a recent Grade III winner who was second to Afleet Alex in last year’s Belmont Stakes-G1. Even against this field Brass Hat looked like the kid who showed up for prom wearing torn jeans and a dirty tee shirt. Did he belong?


If we’ve learned anything about Brass Hat it’s that he loves to answer questions. And he answered this question much the way he has answered questions before – with authority. Gliding over the sloppy track (he had never run on a wet track before) he blew by everyone in the stretch to win by more than four lengths, setting a track record in the process. In just a span of 13 races, interrupted by a 13-month layoff, Brass Hat had gone from a $15,000 maiden claiming race to a Grade I winner with earnings of $1,217,090.


Before Brass Hat came along Fred Bradley had never entered a single horse in a graded stakes, much less a Grade I, and he has been in the game for more than 40 years. Now he had reached the top and there to share it with him was his trainer, his son. While we marveled at the performance we witnessed on the racetrack, the tears and hugs in the winner’s circle instantly reminded us that for father and son this was much more than just winning a horse race.


So where do you go from here? Well first, of course, is back home to Indian Ridge. And then it’s off to a faraway land to answer another question – Brass Hat is headed to Dubai for the $6,000,000 Dubai World Cup-G1, the world’s richest race. There he will face the best runners from all parts of the world. That is a far cry from a small farm in Frankfort, Kentucky.


When he loads into the starting gate in Dubai on March 25 he will be carrying more than the hopes and dreams of a family, he will be carrying the hopes and dreams of every small-time owner and breeder, and of every person who calls themselves a true fan of racing.


Regardless of the outcome in Dubai, Brass Hat has already shown more than could have ever been imagined. He has shown us talent, versatility, determination, and class beyond his means – and he has shown us the heart of a champion. And through it all he has shown us the love of a father and son, and their love of a simple racehorse.


No doubt Brass Hat will be a long shot to win the world’s richest race, but hasn’t he been in this position before? Anyone who discounts his chances simply hasn’t been paying attention.




Joey Adams

February 9, 2006

“Down the Stretch” – 790AM

Southern Gaming Magazine