Bill Denver /
From hard-core politics to flying jet
fighters to foaling Thoroughbred mares - now comes the
coup de grace for 74-year-old Fred
FLORENCE, Ky. - No, Fred Bradley never traveled
with the circus. But he has done pretty much everything else,
from immersing himself in hard-core politics to flying jet
fighters to foaling Thoroughbred mares to all sorts of
seemingly unrelated endeavors.
Now comes the coup de grace for Bradley, a 74-year-old,
story-telling, jack-of-all-trading bundle of energy whose
low-budget racing stable got its start more than 40 years ago
at such tracks as Miles Park and Waterford Park. Bradley is
the breeder and owner of Brass Hat, a 5-year-old gelding whose
improbable rise to stardom has taken him to the world's
richest race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup.
"I can't even tell you what a thrill this is," said
For Bradley, whose son, Buff, is the trainer of Brass Hat,
a trip to Dubai is the culmination of a colorful life. Bradley
earned a journalism degree in 1953 and briefly worked on a
tiny daily newspaper in his western Kentucky hometown of
Providence before returning to the University of Kentucky to
get a law degree in 1959. He started practicing law while also
getting into a variety of business ventures, most notably a
trucking firm that he still owns, and in 1967, he parlayed
that business savvy into 320 acres of farmland in the Kentucky
capital of Frankfort. That was the same year he did a tour of
Vietnam as an Air Force pilot. He eventually retired as a
reservist in April 1991 with the rank of brigadier general.
"Sounds fancier than it really was," he said. "I always say
the military is hours and hours of sheer boredom, interrupted
by seconds of sheer terror."
At various times in his busy life, Bradley also raced stock
cars on dirt tracks, started the first pizza restaurant in
Frankfort, helped raise four children, served as the attorney
for 10 years for the Kentucky Racing Commission, argued cases
before the Public Service Commission, served as a county
judge, served 20 years (1980-99) as a Kentucky state senator,
and raised, trained, and exercised racehorses at his Indian
"Sometimes I'd get on 10 head a day," said Bradley, who got
his first trainer's license in 1965. "I finally had to quit
getting on them a few years ago."
Unlike the bluebloods just up the road in Lexington and
Versailles, the Bradley horses did not cost much, nor did they
prove worth much, as they often wound up competing in $1,500
"I'd get in my plane and fly to Waterford [now Mountaineer]
or drive down to Louisville to Miles Park to saddle a horse,"
"Dad's a trip, a true one-of-a-kind," said Buff Bradley,
42. "He really was doing all those things at once. When I was
still living at home into my early 20's, his office was above
my room, and I'd hear him up there working at 2 a.m. He hardly
Buff was the second child born to Fred and Bettye, who died
in 1987; he followed Steve, 47, and came before two sisters,
Anne and Margaret. Buff is approachable, even-tempered, and
articulate, and with a 1989 bachelor's degree in business
management from Kentucky State University, he very well could
have aspired to a career with more security than racehorse
trainer. But having been around them his entire life, Buff
couldn't get horses out of his system, and even though his
father wanted Buff - whose given name is William but was
nicknamed "Buffalo Bill" by Steve from an early age - to
follow more noble pursuits, he went straight from college to
"I finally said, 'If you're going to do this, then you have
to learn from Clarence Picou,' " said Fred, who had befriended
Picou, and employed him as a trainer, in the 1960's.
Buff worked for four years under Picou, who died in 1998,
before going out on his own in 1993. Based year-round in
Kentucky, he has had a respectable, if unspectacular, career,
having won 207 races, including 11 stakes, in nearly 13 years.
Buff Bradley, whose wife, Kim, is the daughter of
Midwest-based trainers Gary and Sue Thomas, said recently in
an interview at his current base, Turfway Park, that working
for Picou "was the best thing I ever did in racing."
The World Cup, to be run next Saturday at Nad Al Sheba,
will be the 14th career start for Brass Hat, whose career
essentially has come in two phases. His first nine races, all
at age 3, included wins in the Ohio and Indiana derbies and
ended with a ninth-place finish in the Lone Star Derby on the
day before the 2004 Breeders' Cup in Texas.
Brass Hat, a 2001 foal by Prized out of Brassy (a mare that
Fred Bradley bought for $3,500, then sold in 2002 for $8,500),
suffered a condylar fracture of his right front ankle in the
Lone Star Derby and underwent surgery to have two screws
inserted the following day. The injury was the type that
occasionally ends careers and frequently means a horse will
not be as good as before the injury occurred.
But in the remarkable case of Brass Hat, the injury and
subsequent 13-month layoff have proven to be no obstacles
whatsoever. He has become one of the top older horses in North
America after easily capturing the Grade 2 New Orleans
Handicap and Grade 1 Donn Handicap in his last two starts.
"Fortunately, everything went perfect after he got hurt,
and he's just gotten better and better," said Buff Bradley.
Four Bradleys will be in Dubai for what is easily the
biggest race in family history: Buff and his 10-year-old
daughter, Kory, and Fred and his wife of 2 1/2 years, Kay.
"Money is not the driving force of why we're going," said
Fred Bradley, who now lives primarily in Gulf Shores, Ala.,
but returns periodically to Kentucky for business and personal
reasons, including a recent week during which he helped foal
mares at Indian Ridge. "We turned down seven figures for the
horse before the Donn, and he's made more than $1.2 million.
"This is more about the honor of going. I've been running
horses a long time. Going to a place like Dubai for a $6
million race is almost beyond your imagination."
Bradley was hanging pictures in his Gulf Shores home last
week when he came across a winner's circle photo from Dade
Park, now Ellis Park, in 1938. He was the 7-year-old boy in
Fast forward to the possibility of Brass Hat winning the
Dubai World Cup and his owner rubbing elbows in the winner's
circle with billionaire sheikhs. Connecting all those dots is
an incredible stretch, but even if it doesn't happen, there
always will be a story to