Fred Bradley’s Brass Hat, away from racing for more than a year while he recovered from a leg injury, returned to action on Sunday with a track-record performance in a narrow head a victory over favored Student Council following a stretch-long duel in a $61,000 optional claiming allowance race at Churchill Downs.
The 6-year-old homebred gelding broke a 36-year-old record as he covered 1 1/16 miles over a “fast” track in a record 1:41.27 and paid $6.20, $3.80 and $2.60 as the second choice in a field of six. Student Council, who fought back under Robby Albarado when he was passed by the winner and fell just short, paid $3.40 and $2.40. Copy My Notes, who set the early pace under Calvin Borel, finished 6 ¼ lengths behind the top pair and paid $2.60 to show.
Jockey Willie Martinez was aboard Brass Hat as he erased the Churchill Downs record for 1 1/16 miles on dirt that was set by Yes Sir, who covered the distance over a frozen track in 1:41.60 on Nov. 25, 1970. It was the first race for Brass Hat since a fifth-place finish behind Seek Gold in the $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) at Churchill Downs on June 17, 2006. He suffered a cracked sesamoid in his right front leg in a workout following that race and went to the sidelines while the injury healed naturally and 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.”
The allowance race was a showdown of two of the most accomplished geldings in American racing in Brass Hat and Perfect Drift, but the anticipated head-to-head battle never materialized. Brass Hat, winner of the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in 2006 and runner-up in the $6 million Dubai World Cup (GI) before he was disqualified from that position because of a medication mix-up, ran alongside Perfect Drift into the far turn, but the latter failed to respond when Brass Hat launched his winning rally. Perfect Drift, who won the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in 2003 and has earned nearly $4.7 million in his career, finished fifth and saw his losing streak grow to 15 consecutive races.
Brass Hat, who is trained by the owner’s son, William “Buff” Bradley, saw his career record improve to 7-4-0 in 16 races and his earnings improved to $1,271,617. He started his career in a race for $15,000 claiming horses and all of his earlier wins had come in stakes races.
“I thought he was doing better than last year and Willie thought he was doing better than last year, but you don’t know until you get out there and run the race,” said the younger Bradley. “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. 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.”
Real Dandy finished fourth, a head behind third-place Copy My Notes and a neck in front of Perfect Drift. M B Sea finished last in a field reduced to six by the late scratches of Spellbinder and I’m Waiting for U.