Brass Hat, making only his third start after a 13-month layoff, took a commanding 2 1/2-length victory in the $435,600 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) Saturday at the Fair Grounds meet at Harrah's Louisiana Downs.
The second choice in the field of eight older horses while carrying top weight of 117 pounds, Brass Hat paid $7.60, $4.80, and $3 and completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.35.
Trained by William "Buff" Bradley for his father, Fred Bradley, Brass Hat broke from the rail and settled back in the pack behind a pedestrian pace set by 2-1 favorite Alumni Hall, who took the field through fractions of 24.88 seconds for the first quarter-mile, :50.26 for the half and 1:14.38 for six furlongs.
Todd Pletcher trainee West Virginia briefly took the lead in the stretch, but Brass Hat, with Willie Martinez aboard, rallied four wide and drew clear inside the furlong pole.
Longshot Dixie Meister, Roman Chapa aboard, rallied for second and paid $18.60 and $6.20. It was another half-length back to Alumni Hall and Robby Albarado, who returned $2.60 to show.
West Virginia finished fourth, followed by Mr. Trieste, M B Sea, Silver Axe and Sanctuary's Omooni.
The win was Brass Hat's fifth in 12 lifetime starts, and his third in grade II company. He won the Ohio Derby and the Indiana Derby (both gr. II) as a 3-year-old before he fractured his right ankle in the Lone Star Derby (gr. III) in October 2004.
He returned to the races on Thanksgiving Day, finishing seventh in an allowance/optional claiming race at Churchill Downs, before winning the Prairie Bayou three weeks ago at Turfway Park.
"He's overcome a lot of things. He's just coming into form," said Martinez, who also won the New Orleans Handicap six years ago aboard 45-1 shot Allen's Oop. "We're happy to have him back at the races. This is beyond our expectations."
Patience was all Fred and Buff Bradley could have while Brass Hat was sidelined.
"Buff and I talked about (patience) a lot, the whole 13 months he was off," Fred Bradley said. "He had a little problem in the healing process, and it delayed us a little bit, but everything worked out just beautifully."
Fred Bradley paid $5,000 for Brass Hat's mare, Brassy, and bred her to Prized
, who stands for $3,500. The return on investment is more than 10,000%, as Brass Hat, who earned $261,360 Saturday, raised his career earnings to $917,090.
Buff Bradley said he was undecided on Brass Hat's next start. "We'll just see how he comes back and then make some plans," he said. "Maybe Oaklawn. We really don't try to get too far ahead of ourselves."
Dixie Meister, whose only stakes wins came come in restricted company, made a big step up with his finish.
"Roman gave him a perfect trip," said trainer Steve Asmussen, who watched the race on television from Gulfstream Park in Florida. "He was in a perfect spot behind a slow pace. He earned all the money he got."
Earlier on the card, odds-on favorite Josh's Madelyn captured the $62,100 Pan Zareta for distaff sprinters, and Equestrian Girls rallied to overtake Our Love and win the $83,100 Red Camelia for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares on the turf.