The backstory of Buff Bradley's success is a quintessential feel-good tale within the Thoroughbred industry. The days of the trainer's feats qualifying as some unexpected fairy tale, however, have sailed.
When Bradley and his father, Fred, first caught lightning in a bottle by breeding and campaigning Grade I winner and multimillionaire Brass Hat, it was a game-changing achievement for their modest Frankfort-based operation.
When their homebred filly Groupie Doll took up the torch after Brass Hat's retirement in 2011 and became a two-time Breeders' Cup champion, it put the Bradley name on a level that many learned horsemen work their entire lives for and never reach.
It is no longer a secret that Buff Bradley can train the heck out of a racehorse — be it on dirt, turf, synthetic, running short or long.
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And after years of being a self-made success, Bradley is now showing he is just as effective at training others' horses.
When the principles of Tom Keithley's Gunpowder Farms were discussing which trainers to enlist for the burgeoning operation, Bradley's name was openly praised and mildly questioned, as there was the perception he primarily conditioned his own homebreds.
What won out was the overwhelming belief that Bradley's patient style would merge perfectly with Gunpowder's philosophy — a point the bright bay colt by the name of Divisidero has validated heading into Saturday's Grade I, $1.25 million Belmont Derby, a 11/4-mile race on the Belmont Park turf.
On the undercard of the Kentucky Derby this May 2, Gunpowder Farms celebrated its first graded stakes winner when the Bradley-trained Divisidero captured the Grade II American Turf in his third career start.
Coming off a neck victory in the Pennine Ridge Stakes at Belmont on May 30, the son of Kitten's Joy stands as the 4-to-1 second choice on the morning line in the nine-horse field for the Belmont Derby as he attempts to give Gunpowder its first Grade I winner and Bradley a top-level victor for an outside client.
"It's pretty exciting to have a horse of that caliber in your stable. And the thing that might help me out is people understand that I'm not just breeding and raising horses myself, I'm doing it for other people as well," Bradley said. "I think I sometimes haven't gotten horses because of that reason. They think I'm just doing my own thing, but that's far from the truth.
"It gives me the opportunity to get a variety of horses and hopefully a little better quality of animal in my stable."
Divisidero was among the first group of yearlings purchased on behalf of Gunpowder Farms in September 2013, drawing a final bid of $250,000 at the Keeneland September auction. As a May foal, the bay colt had a lovely frame to him and — more important — the room for potential that Keithley most desired.
"What Tom always wanted ... was a horse that isn't that flashy, big, ready-to-run kind of yearling," said University of Louisville graduate Josh Stevens, racing manager for Gunpowder Farms. "The minute I saw (Divisidero), I thought this is the kind of horse Tom had preached he was looking for the whole time. Which was a horse who could develop and we could continue to grow and raise him under our program and he could thrive."
Among the many things Stevens said he appreciates about Bradley is how in tune he is with his charges and how committed he is to patience in a what-have-you-done-lately industry.
Some minor shin and maturity issues kept Divisidero from making his career debut until appearing in a maiden, 11⁄16-mile turf race on Feb. 7 at Gulfstream Park. He was 25-to-1 in the eyes of the betting public. When he hit the wire first under jockey Rafael Hernandez, rallying from near the back of the 13-horse field, it showed Bradley that his eyes had not deceived him.
"I thought he was ready," Bradley said of the colt's debut. "I had worked him a mile on the dirt and he was really impressive to me. I said, if he moves up on the grass as well as he's working on the dirt we'll have a monster."
Divisidero will be in deep waters against the likes of Bolo in the Belmont Derby, but he has shown intangibles that could put him on a course to the Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland on Oct. 31.
Bradley has maintained that longer distances would be in his colt's favor. And in the 11⁄8-mile Pennine Ridge Stakes, Divisidero showed he was more than just a closer when he overcame a stumble at the break, rushed up into contention in the paceless race and ran down fellow Belmont Derby entrant Takeover Target to win by a neck.
"He showed a very gutsy performance there," Bradley said. "Rafael knew the pace was slow and to get him right up there and then idle him back down ... it's amazing for that horse to be able to do that. Sometimes with these young horses you push the button in, you can't pull it back out, you're on go."
Stevens said that Gunpowder Farms — which boards horses at Silver Springs Stud in Paris — has about 15 horses at the track and 15 2-year-olds going through their paces. Bradley himself has six horses for the operation, with more set to come his way.
"What is crazy to me is that in one year you could have a horse not only win your first graded stakes at Churchill Downs but then potentially come back and win a Breeders' Cup race at Keeneland," Stevens said. "To even have an idea you could do that in same year is amazing.
"I think if you give the horse everything they need, the patience ... you'll get the best out of them. I kind of grew up with an appreciation of what time could do for a horse and Buff falls right in line with that."