Fancy Headwear -- by James Scully
Saturday's Donn H. (G1) winner appeared to step out of a Hollywood movie script. His racing career began at Turfway Park more than two years ago in a $15,000 maiden claiming race. Dismissed at 32-1, our protagonist finished second to a horse who is still competing at the bottom of the claiming ladder. Two starts later and still a maiden, BRASS HAT (Prized) left the starting gate in the Rushaway S. as the longest shot on the board at 38-1. He didn't appear to have any business in the race, but Brass Hat rallied to an unlikely upset that afternoon and then followed suit with his first graded win at 21-1 in the Ohio Derby (G2) three months later. Suddenly, the public became aware of the overachieving three-year-old. The Cinderella story captured the Indiana Derby (G2) next and headed to the starting gate as the favorite in the Lone Star Derby (G3) about a month later.
That's when misfortune struck. Brass Hat sustained a serious injury during the race and had to be vanned off the Lone Star Park track due to a fractured ankle. Because he is a gelding, his connections would give him every chance to make it back to the races, but the injury was bad. Facing a lengthy recovery, Brass Hat's best days appeared to be over. But his handlers never gave up hope. At the family farm, Kim Bradley, wife of trainer William "Buff" Bradley, began to nurse the injured horse back to good health. Brass Hat finally made it back to the races after a 13-month hiatus, returning at Churchill Downs last November. The multiple Grade 2 winner promptly finished seventh in an allowance/optional-claiming event. Who thought he would accomplish much afterward?
However, Brass Hat captured his second start back, the Prairie Bayou S. at Turfway, in mid-December. It made for a nice story, but he certainly wasn't facing top-class rivals in the listed event. His next race, the New Orleans H. (G2) in early January, would answer many more questions. Brass Hat rallied boldly on the far turn and inhaled his opposition, drawing clear to a 2 1/2-length win at Louisiana Downs. It was time to try untested waters.
The Donn marked his Grade 1, and East Coast, debut and the five-year-old left the starting gate as the second highest-price on the tote board at 8-1. With the sloppy Gulfstream Park track favoring speed, bettors realized that the late runner was at a disadvantage. Brass Hat and regular rider Willie Martinez assumed their normal position far off the pace and began to circle rivals four wide on the far turn. The courageous bay continued his assault into the stretch, blowing past Magna Graduate (Honor Grades) and Pies Prospect (Crafty Prospector) en route to a 4 3/4-length triumph. He earned a 112 Speed rating.
The story's not over yet.