Racing off the rail behind the pacesetters with regular rider Willie Martinez aboard in the $61,000 optional claiming allowance event, the bay homebred Brass Hat advanced into contention on the final turn and challenged Student Council near the furlong pole. The 6-year-old Prized gelding proved best under steady urging. The winning clocking, 1:41.27, took took nearly two ticks off the dirt track mark established by Yes Sir (1:41 3/5) on Nov. 25, 1970.
Brass Hat made his first start for trainer William "Buff" Bradley -- the owner's son -- since a fifth-place finish in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) in June of 2006. Winner of the Donn Handicap (gr. I) earlier in 2006, Brass Hat won his seventh race in 16 lifetime tries with earnings of $1,271,617. He started his career in a race for $15,000 claiming horses. All of his earlier wins had come in stakes races.
“I knew that Brass Hat would be back to his old self after he got a race in him, but I didn’t expect this," Buff Bradley said. "I think if he stays healthy, look out.”
“I’ve got no problem getting beat like that,” said Neil Howard, trainer of runner-up Student Council. “He ran good. They broke the track record, and Buff did a hell of a job bringing that horse back.”
Brass Hat had a series of sharp drills, including two bullet works June 14 and 29 at Churchill, leading to his return after a fractured sesamoid in the right fore sent him to the sidelines. The injury healed naturally without the need for surgery.
“We knew that he was training at his best, and we knew that he could win this race – but we surely didn’t expect to break the track record, and that was just a plus,” said Martinez. “He’s just an amazing horse, and we’re very fortunate to have him. I look forward to the big races down the road.”
Sent off at just slightly longer odds than the 2-1 on Student Council, Brass Hat paid $6.20, $3.80, and $2.60.
Student Council, who spotted the winner four pounds while toting 124, returned $3.40 and $2.40 with Robby Albarado aboard.
Copy My Notes, ridden by Calvin Borel, was $2.60 to show.
Real Dandy finished fourth, followed by another grade I winner, Stonecrest Farm's Perfect Drift, who raced close along the inside into the stretch but faded to finish nearly seven lengths behind Brass Hat. M B Sea trailed.
Perfect Drift, who won the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in 2003 and has earned nearly $4.7 million in his career, saw his losing streak grow to 15 consecutive races.