Frankfort-based family living a horse-racing dream

awincze@herald-leader.comOctober 28, 2012 

  • This week

    Breeders' Cup World Championships

    When: Nov. 2-3

    Where: Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.

The glorious ride they are on has not yet stopped. Yet, Kim Bradley tries to remind her children that the exceptional moments that have become their norm are exceptions to the rule.

Contrary to what the last eight or so years have brought to the lives of Kory, Drew and Jett Bradley, it is no sure bet that one of the foals in their paddocks will make regular, high-profile trips to the winner's circle — not for anyone in the Thoroughbred industry, and certainly not for an operation that raises only about 10 to 14 babies a season.

"With the kids, it's funny, and I try and tell them, 'Do you realize what we have here?'" said Kim, wife of trainer William "Buff" Bradley and day-to-day overseer of the Bradleys' Indian Ridge Farm. "In my lifetime, this is so surreal. I'm trying to show them how great this is, and I don't want them to ... think, 'No big deal.'"

It took 39 years after Fred Bradley founded his family's Frankfort-based training center for the farm to breed and race its first Grade I winner, the charismatic gelding Brass Hat. After being spoiled by his exploits for nearly seven seasons, the Bradleys didn't dare think another was in the on-deck circle.

However, not one month after the announcement last May that Brass Hat was being retired, a pretty chestnut filly who once rollicked on the Bradleys' 320-acre property made it clear that there are no quotas on once-in-a-lifetime horses.

The father-son, owner-trainer duo of Fred and Buff Bradley, who have invested decades of emotion and finances into the Thoroughbred industry, might have some eminent bookends coming their way in the form of Breeders' Cup and Eclipse Award trophies. That's if their homebred filly Groupie Doll does what is expected of her Saturday.

The jubilation that has greeted the Grade I-winning daughter of Bowman's Band after eight career wins will pale next to a victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita Park, where she is expected to be the race favorite.

When Brass Hat was at the height of a career that saw him earn more than $2.1 million, Buff Bradley recounts his son Drew enthusiastically declaring them to have another star on their hands after helping his father foal a mare.

That foal was not Groupie Doll, but the cockeyed optimism proved prophetic nonetheless. Since making her career debut in June 2011, the filly who once earned the nickname Beyonce because of her pretty-girl looks has developed into the nation's leading female sprinter this season, with four straight graded stakes wins, including two Grade I triumphs over defending female sprint champion Musical Romance.

"We used to tell everybody, as soon as we win a $100,000 race, we're going to fix that, or we're going to build a shed here," Buff Bradley said. "Now we're beyond that, which is good.

"I'll never forget when Drew said, 'This could be another Brass Hat' and I laughed and said you know, you're right. That's why we do it. ... That's why you go through a lot of agonizing times. You have to be patient in this business, and we've been rewarded greatly."

The back-to-back windfalls of Brass Hat and Groupie Doll have enriched the Bradleys' lives, but it is hard to fathom any level of success greatly changing the day-to-day routine in Buff's shedrow or on the farm.

Were it not for the Bradleys' shared passion for the Thoroughbred industry and commitment to self-sufficient philosophies, the talented homebreds wouldn't have materialized.

50 years in the business

The term multi-hyphenate only partially covers the breadth of Fred Bradley. The 81-year-old native of Providence, Ky., has been a decorated brigadier general, an attorney, a state senator and even a stock car driver.

No matter the hat Fred Bradley has worn at any given time, the title of horseman remains a fixture. At age 8, weekly visits with his father to the former Dade Park, now Ellis Park, first fostered his devotion to the animals that are now ingrained in his world.

"Going to Dade Park every day, I learned to appreciate horses there," Fred Bradley said. "I bought my first mule when I was 10 years old out of a mine. I bought him for $3 and broke him to ride, sold him for $5 and said, 'My God, this is a way to make money. I can stand this life.' And that's what I did."

Fred Bradley obtained the property that is Indian Ridge Farm in 1967 and set about making the operation not only his family's home but their lifeblood. Buff grew up prepping mares, breaking babies and galloping his father's stock.

Buff Bradley worked for about four years as an assistant for longtime family friend and trainer Clarence Picou, then he took out his own trainer's license in 1993. With his father as his biggest owner, Buff used old-school horsemanship to raise some of their best runners.

"Clarence was a good person for me to go to because ... I knew he was going to take care of me," Buff Bradley said. "I could have gone to Churchill and gone to work for someone and I probably still would be working for someone. But Clarence got me going well, and he had the same philosophy as Fred: patience.

"I remember when I came back, (Fred Bradley) said, 'I've got $10,000; we're going to go to the sale and buy two horses.' And we bought Brass Hat's dam (for $5,000 in 1996). She was one of the two horses."

By and large, the Bradleys have made their own luck.

When horses like Brass Hat started paying their way and then some for the Bradleys, practically every dollar was put right back into the business, going to everything from stud fees to the black plank fences.

"I've been in this business 50 years. ... How many people you know been in this business 50 years?" Fred Bradley said. "They just don't last. But we do everything ourselves; we've foaled every mare ourselves. You appreciate it so much more if you work hard yourself."

Buff Bradley said, "I think we just always tried to do everything the right way. Thank goodness I own part of Groupie Doll because, ... between stud fees and everything else to operate this farm, we've spent every bit of that money."

Luck among the unlucky

Of the five live foals her dam Deputy Doll produced before Groupie Doll was born in 2008, only one went on to win a race, and almost all had some sort of problem.

Groupie Doll's half-sister Time Doesn't Wait ended up being put down. Another sibling by Brahms is blind, and the Bradleys tried valiantly to save her half-brother by Monashee Mountain in 2007 before he succumbed to illness.

"They (her siblings) were either crooked or sick, but when Groupie Doll was born, she was beautiful, and I remember Buff and I were both so excited," Kim Bradley said. "We thought, finally, this mare threw something. We waited a long time for her."

After finishing eighth in her career debut at Churchill Downs, the only other time Groupie Doll has been off the board came on the Churchill turf in the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes last November.

Buff Bradley added blinkers to the filly in advance of her 3-length win in the Grade I Vinery Madison at Keeneland in April, and Groupie Doll has been nothing short of a beast — highlighted by her 71/4-length triumph in the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs in track-record time and her most recent win in the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland on Oct. 6.

"Sometimes she has not been very interested in her races early on ... but as sharp as she is, she has learned a little bit, and the blinkers have helped," Buff Bradley said.

The Bradleys know there will never be another Groupie Doll. Her dam, Deputy Doll, died early last year when she and two other mares were struck by lightning, and Bowman's Band was euthanized in 2008 after complications from colic surgery.

When Groupie Doll was recovering from a mild hock injury last summer, she was turned out with Brass Hat. It was then the impact of their good fortune hit the Bradley family full force.

"You see them out there running around, I have to sit there and think, God there are two Grade I winners out there that we've raised," Buff Bradley said. "And it's been everybody, the people who work for me, my family.

"From day one (the horses) are with us. It's just kind of amazing to look back and think that a dream when I was here galloping horses on the farm was just to have a stakes winner."

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Twitter: @horseracinghl.Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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