It's not every day the Keeneland crowd rises to its feet after a Grade III race.
But the fans know a spectacular story when they see one. And they knew the winner of Thursday's Sycamore Stakes was deserving of a rousing cheer.
The venerable Brass Hat continued to prove there is still fight in his 9-year-old legs, unleashing a determined kick on the far outside to overtake 11 rivals and claim his sixth graded-stakes win in the 11/2-mile Sycamore over the Keeneland turf.
The response of the Keene land crowd — and the emotion in owner/breeder Fred Bradley's eyes — after Brass Hat got his first win since May 2009 demonstrated the sentimentality the gelding has built up in his seven years on the racetrack.
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In an age when racing is desperate for its stars to stay on the track, Brass Hat has repeatedly battled back from ailments to carve out a career that has produced more than $2.1 million in earnings, 10 wins in 39 starts and a very appreciative following.
"He loves what he's doing. That's what makes him a special racehorse. If he didn't, we wouldn't be here today," said Buff Bradley, who trains the horse for his father, Fred. "My dad has been the best owner in giving him plenty of time when he needs it. It's never been anything forced. He's been so good about that."
Though he had been winless in five starts this year, Brass Hat signaled his readiness for the Sycamore when he threw down a bullet 5-furlong work in :59 at Keeneland six days before the race.
The son of Prized was docile and calm in the paddock Thursday, but he let his competitive fire take over once the gates opened. He rated for jockey Calvin Borel in his customary spot at the rear of the 12-horse field through a half in :48.29 before advancing between horses in the stretch and edging clear to beat 54-to-1 shot Southern Anthem by a length in a final time of 2:30.73.
Favorite Musketier was third with pacesetter and Grade I winner Presious Passion fading to ninth.
"I never thought he had a shot," said Buff Bradley. "When they turned for home I thought, 'Calvin's covered up,' and at 9 years old, you don't know if he has that turn of foot. But he showed it today."
After participating in the post-race trophy presentation on the turf course, the Bradleys brought Brass Hat back to the traditional winner's circle to pose for a few more pictures and let the crowd — and themselves — soak in the fact that the old boy does indeed still have it.
"For (the Bradleys) to have a great horse like this and for me to get to ride him is very special," said Borel, who hopped up on Brass Hat bareback in the winner's circle and embraced his longtime mount. "I just rode the race like I thought he was the best horse and he showed up."