Brass Hat has shot at rare feat in Clark

Brass Hat stretched out his 9-year-old legs and won the Grade III Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 21. It was the gelding's first win since last May.
Brass Hat stretched out his 9-year-old legs and won the Grade III Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 21. It was the gelding's first win since last May.

According to trainer Buff Bradley, there is really only one reason, after seven years, 39 starts and more than $2.1 million in earnings, his 9-year-old stable star Brass Hat hasn't traded in life at the racetrack for carefree days inside a paddock.

After all the gelding has done, he has — at the very least — earned the right to keep doing what makes him happy.

"The past few years has been all him," Bradley said of his personable Grade I winner. "If he wasn't able to do it, we wouldn't put him out there. We're not ever trying to just do it for attention, it's his willingness to want to do it."

As those who witnessed Brass Hat's victory in the Grade III Sycamore Stakes on the turf at Keeneland on Oct. 21 can attest, the Prized gelding is still willing and able to get his seasoned legs into high gear against some top company.

Owner Fred Bradley's popular homebred will again try to show his younger counterparts a thing or two about competitive fire Friday when he steps into Grade I company for the first time in more than a year against 10 others in the $500,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Brass Hat hasn't won a Grade I test since taking the 2006 edition of the Donn Handicap. If Franklin County's favorite equine son can pull off the upset over the likes of graded stakes winners Apart and Successful Dan in the 11⁄8-mile Clark, he would become just the fifth horse since 1976 to win a Grade I race at age 9, joining John Henry, The Tin Man, John's Call and Super Diamond.

Nice as it would be, history isn't what prompted Buff Bradley — who conditions Brass Hat for his father, Fred — to pick this spot for the bay gelding.

"No, we're not trying to do anything special with him like that," Bradley said. "Really there wasn't any other spot to run him. He likes the track. We wanted to run him on the dirt, and we wanted to give him a couple months off this winter so we figured we might as well stay up here instead of shipping him anywhere.

"The way he is training right now, he's just very aggressive and really into it."

It is his still-eager attitude and ability to take care of himself that has allowed Brass Hat — who will have jockey Tony Farina aboard in place of the injured Calvin Borel — to be a factor at an age when many of his foes have long ago hung it up.

In six starts this year, Brass Hat has hit the board four times, including his stirring triumph in the Sycamore, which marked his 10th career victory and first win since taking the Grade III Louisville Handicap last May.

Although 11 of his last 12 starts have come on turf, Brass Hat did run second in the 2007 edition of the Clark and was fifth behind champion Curlin in the 2008 Stephen Foster Handicap, his last outing over the Churchill dirt.

Even if his late-running kick may be a bit less potent than it was a few years ago, Brass Hat has learned to channel some energy from a different source over the years.

With every season he stays on the track, his already abundant popularity grows — and don't think those cheering his name go unnoticed.

"I really think he responds to the crowd. He knows the attention is on him," Bradley said. "His routine is basically the same but he's probably gotten a little more friendly to outside people.

"I think he's become more of a people person in the last couple years more than he was in a younger stage. He didn't have the personality he does now."