It was a banner weekend for trainer William “Buff” Bradley and his family — and not just at the racetrack.
Sure, the Bradley-trained colt Divisidero won his first Grade 1 in Saturday's Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, the second straight year the 4-year-old has captured a graded stakes on Derby Day. But then on Sunday at the Kentucky Horse Park, 15-year-old Brass Hat took home a second-place ribbon at the Thoroughbred Horse Show Association event for retired Thoroughbreds. It was likely just as satisfying for Bradley.
“He's been a part of the family. He's always been here at the farm,” Bradley said of the homebred gelding who raced 40 times during his career.
Both of the weekend's accomplishments reveal a cornerstone of the Bradley philosophy — time heals most things. Brass Hat famously raced until he was nine years old because he was given time off when he needed it and slowly nursed back to health when he was injured.
“He came back off two career-ending injuries basically and was healed back up by my wife, Kim. There was no pressure to ever bring him back and race him,” said Bradley.
As for Divisidero, he was sent to the farm as a 2-year-old to mature and heal from shin problems and after beginning his racing career at three, the colt returned to the farm for eight months of rest before getting back to the races in February.
“We've brought him along slowly, and it's been a very good team effort so I think it's very satisfying to see everybody work together to accomplish this goal,” Bradley said. “You've gotta have a lot of good luck in this game, but you can make it to where the odds are in your favor of having good luck. That's what we try to do is reduce the odds of having bad luck.”
Bradley learned the role of patience at a young age, working with horses when he was just eight years old on the Frankfort, Ky., land his father, Fred, purchased in 1967. Buff continued to work at Indian Ridge Farm through his teen years while also attending night classes that resulted in a business management degree from Kentucky State University. Upon graduation, he told his father he wanted to give the racetrack life a go and spent the next few years learning the training craft under longtime family friend Clarence Picou. In 1993, Bradley went out on his own.
“I started with six horses and they were for John Franks, who was the leading owner in America that year, so I got some good exposure. It was probably good to start out that way.”
It also helped that his father, a Kentucky State Senator at the time, decided to invest more in his Thoroughbred racing and breeding operation. He didn't have a lot of money to put in so choosing the right horses was important. Fred purchased a yearling named Brassy for $5,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale and while she never raced, she produced a foal by Prized that would change the Bradleys' lives.
“(Brass Hat) is the one that started it all for us and really took my father and I a lot of places together, stuff we really enjoyed together as father and son,” Bradley said. “Now, my dad is in failing health; it was nice to have a horse like him come along and for us to both experience it.”
Brass Hat also became a fan favorite as he returned to the track year after year, winning 10 of his 40 starts and earning close to $2.2 million. His final race at Keeneland, a victory in the G3 Sycamore Stakes, remains Bradley's most special achievement.
“Winning the Grade 1 Donn at Gulfstream was nice, but capping off Brass Hat's career at age nine, winning the graded Sycamore there at Keeneland was really big,” said Bradley. “My father was able to attend and realize what was going on and able to enjoy that.”
Another of his father's sharp acquisitions, a $25,000 yearling purchase named Deputy Doll, would produce the Bradleys' next big horse.
“I remember the day that she was born. She hadn't even stood up, and I said this is the one we've been waiting for,” Buff recalled. “You could just see it on the ground, big ole butt and everything. I thought, when she stands up, she's going to be gorgeous.”
The filly was Groupie Doll, who had a sensational career, winning 12 of 23, back-to-back Eclipse Awards, and more than $2.6 million. Once again, a key component of her success was Bradley recognizing when she needed a break.
“When I brought her back for her 5-year-old campaign in Florida, I said she's not right, she's not wanting to do this. She's not herself, let's just send her back to the farm, and we sent her back to the farm in January, gave her a couple months off and let her recover.”
Later that year, she won her second consecutive Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Bradley would've loved to have kept Groupie Doll, put her in the pasture with Brass Hat, but she proved too valuable as a broodmare prospect. At the 2013 Keeneland November Sale, she sold for $3.1 million to Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm. Groupie Doll, who produced Tapit offspring the last two years, boards at Wayne and Cathy Sweezy's Timber Town Farms in Lexington, and Bradley still visits her often.
The trainer currently has 38 racehorses and likes having a stable about that size so he can be hands on with his horses. He has also scaled back the family's breeding operation to a handful of mares due to the expense of maintaining a larger band, but thanks to Groupie Doll's sale, Bradley has turned a section of the family farm into a Thoroughbred retirement area, complete with an outdoor arena. His three children participate in the business, and his youngest, 12-year-old Jett, has taken to show riding.
Five of his retired horses, including Brass Hat, participated in the OTTB Show at Kentucky Horse Park.
“It's nice to watch these horses grow up, and to think I had a hand in planning the matings for both Brass Hat and Groupie Doll, that was special, too,” said Bradley. “To be able to pull both of them out of their mothers and help raise them, and manage their whole career, it's something that I've enjoyed doing and hope that we can have more of those. But I know those opportunities don't come along very often. I'm very realistic about what has happened with our family farm and the horses we've raise in that we've been very, very fortunate.”
His father, a retired Air Force general, now lives at a veteran's center. Despite his ill health, the 85-year-old still loves talking about the game with his son.
“He told me a couple days ago, we need another good horse,” Bradley laughed. “And I agreed with him. You always need another good horse.”
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