The decades of diligence the late Fred Bradley put into the Thoroughbred industry were something the longtime owner/breeder was most prideful of. In the later stages of the Oct. 28 Hagyard Fayette Stakes (G2), a portion of the dedication Bradley fostered alongside his son, trainer Buff Bradley, came roaring down the Keeneland stretch.
The chestnut colt named The Player represents one of the final horses Fred Bradley and his son bred along with their partner, Carl Hurst, before the former's passing in May of 2016. The son of Street Hero is a most fitting final flagbearer for the former state senator, the product of a female family the Bradley clan cultivated for two generations.
During the final furlong of the $200,000 Fayette Stakes, The Player showcased the kind of determination that would have made Fred Bradley beam when he wore down pacesetter Neolithic and kicked on for a three-length victory, earning his first graded stakes win in 10 starts.
"This is one of the last horses (my father) bred with our partner," Buff Bradley said in the Keeneland winner's circle, before emotion got the best of his voice.
Out of their homebred Gilded Time mare Hour Queen—who herself is daughter of the Bradley/Hurst-bred mare Town Queen—The Player has been a barn favorite for both his personality and his bloodlines. He has a playful habit of sitting on his haunches like a dog, but has been knocking on the door of a breakout effort since the summer of 2016 when he was beaten three-quarters of a length by future grade 1 winner Cupid in the Indiana Derby (G2).
The Player was given nearly a year off after that run, dropping his first two starts this year before winning an allowance race at Ellis Park in August. His second-place finish in the Sept. 30 Ack Ack Stakes (G3) signaled he was rounding back into higher form. When Neolithic stubbornly gave way in the stretch after cutting fractions of :24.22 and :47.47 for a half-mile, The Player pounced from his stalking spot under Hall of Famer Calvin Borel, covering 1 1/8-miles in 1:48.16 over a sloppy track.
"We thought he could go a mile and an eighth and today he showed it," Buff Bradley said. "But you never know until they go and do it. Turning for home, we felt like we were going to win it."
Sent off at 8-1 odds in a field that included multiple graded stakes winners McCraken and Honorable Duty, The Player rated a length back in second off Neolithic down the backstretch with those two putting about eight lengths between themselves and the rest of the six-horse lineup coming off the far turn.
Neolithic, who ran third in this year's Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) and Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), held for second, with McCraken getting up for third. Guiseppe the Great, Malibu Pro, and Honorable Duty completed the order.
The Player improved his record to four wins from 10 starts with $345,085 in earnings.
"He left there running. I was right where I wanted to be at all times," said Borel, who earned his first stakes win at Keeneland since 2011. "I smooched at him (to encourage him) around the turn. If I could just get my horse to go on and finish, I knew he could run. The mile and an eighth kind of scared me, but he showed us today he can do it."