On May 24, while reporters trace the every move of Triple Crown contender Big Brown, a hard-knocking 7-year-old gelding will make the 25th start of his career in the $150,000 Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs. And although the racing industry looks to a 3-year-old runner to attract nationwide fans, the reality is that Fred Bradley’s Brass Hat is an equally intriguing horse to follow.
Owned and bred by Fred Bradley, the grade I-winning Prized gelding who has come back from both a condylar fracture and a sesamoid injury to mark himself as a legitimate contender in stakes events.
(To read an article by Blood-Horse staff writer Jason Shandler on Brass Hat's remarkable career, click here).
Dropped to grade III contention for the first time since last October and traveling the 1 ½-mile distance as he did in his last start, Brass Hat has as good a chance as any to conquer ten other runners in the Louisville. The Bradley homebred, out of the Dixie Brass mare Brassy, gets the top weight of 117 off a third-place effort in Keeneland’s April 25 Fifth Third Elkhorn Stakes (gr. IIT) in which he made a five-wide bid at the three-eighths pole and missed victory by 3 ½ lengths.
The Elkhorn was Brass Hat’s first race on the turf since November 2005. Obviously, trainer William “Buff” Bradley was pleased with the effort.
“He showed us a lot in Elkhorn and got stuck out in that race,” said Bradley, who trained Brass Hat to his 2006 Donn Handicap (gr. I) win and to three grade II scores between 2004-06. “He finished pretty strong, and even though he’s not won on the grass yet he’s had his excuses. He ran a couple times as a 3-year-old against the best grass horses in the country like Prince Arch and Kitten's Joy, and he can run with them. I look for him to put in a big effort Saturday; he’s really blossomed here in the last month or two.”
Bradley will shake things up for Brass Hat with a jockey change – local rider Calvin Borel gets the mount instead of Willie Martinez, who has ridden the gelding in his last 18 starts.
“Willie’s gone up to Presque Isle Downs and hadn’t been around Churchill for a while, and that was our main reason for switching,” the trainer said. “I needed to find somebody to ride him here who can get on him in the mornings and who is familiar with the way the turf is playing here. Willie has done a great job for us and it was a tough decision to make but this seemed like the right time to make a change. Calvin is a great rail-rider and he’s known for saving ground… going 1 ½ miles, every step counts.”
But Brass Hat isn’t scaring away any runners in the Louisville. From fellow old-timer Silverfoot, the 8-year-old Dallas Stewart trainee who was fifth in the Elkhorn, to a pair of 4-year-old upstarts coming off a one-two finish, the field will be a crowded one.
Trainer Bill Mott sends out Martin Cherry’s homebred Pickapocket, a son of Mecke who enters this race off a half-length score in a 1 1/8-mile allowance event at Keeneland. All but one of the colt’s four wins have come from on or close to the pace at 1 1/8 miles or less, so whether his speed will hold for the 1 ½-mile distance remains to be seen.
Second to Pickapocket in that April 12 allowance was the Al Stall-trained Lattice, a son of Arch owned by breeders Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. After trekking three wide in eighth and encountering traffic along the way, he angled outside and closed late to narrowly miss. The colt’s score in the American Derby (gr. IIT) last summer came with similar closing style, so the 1 ½-mile route could be right up his alley.
Two runners seeming to beg for added distance are Dream Walkin Farms’ Firerock Base and Raymond Cottrell Sr.’s Birdbirdistheword.
Firerock Base, a son of Indian Charlie, was second by a half length in a one-mile allowance at Churchill April 26. Unhurried early, he closed too late from eighth to miss the win. Running at Fair Grounds early this year for trainer Bobby Barnett, the 4-year-old ridgling got a string of allowance wins – one on dirt going a mile in January and the other two on the turf going about 8 ½ furlongs in February and March. His only attempt at graded company thus far resulted in a three-quarters of a length loss for fourth place in the April 5 J B Conley Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Sam Houston as he rallied with a four-wide bid in a blanket finish.
Birdbirdistheword, a Ken McPeek-trained son of Pure Prize, won his last start going 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs May 10 in an allowance event on the dirt. Although previous starts on the turf at distances of 1 1/16 miles, 1 1/8 miles, and 7 ½ furlongs resulted in two sixths and a seventh-place finish at the end of last year and the beginning of this season, the 4-year-old colt was closing well in each effort and looks to like the added ground. Birdbirdistheword won the Boyd Gaming’s Delta Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) in 2006.
Making his second start off a layup and looking for his first win since last October’s score in Keeneland’s 1 1/2-mile Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT) is John and Kim Glenney’s homebred Transduction Gold. The Formal Gold gelding has raced just twice since then, finishing eighth in the 1 ½-mile John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) behind English Channel and running 10th in the Elkhorn.
$150,000 Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT, race 10, approximate post 5:51 p.m.), 1 ½ miles for older horses, turf
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Lattice, 114, Robby Albarado
2. Biggerbadderbetter, 113, Corey Lanerie
3. Spider Power, 113, James Lopez
4. Transduction Gold, 114, Miguel Mena
5. Brass Hat, 117, Calvin Borel
6. Save Big Money, 113, Shaun Bridgmohan
7. Pickapocket, 114, Elvis Trujillo
8. Birdbirdistheword, 113, Jesus Lopez Castanon
9. Silverfoot, 115, Jamie Theriot
10. Lord Carmen, 114, Larry Melancon
11. Firerock Base, 114, Julien Leparoux