The name Buff Bradley is well known among the racing industry. Consistently a leading trainer in both Kentucky and nationally, Buff has conditioned such superstars as Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint-G1 winner Groupie Doll and Grade 1 winner Brass Hat.
What many don't know about Buff, however, is his passion for Thoroughbreds outside of racing and his dedication to re-homing them once their racing days have come to an end.
In fact, those who watch his stable of stars train in the early hours of the morning each day will undoubtedly see an OTTB or two as well, because Buff's pony horses, Val, Elvis, and Souperman, are all off-trackers with special stories to tell.
“Val and Souperman were part of my first winning trainer title at Ellis Park,” explained Buff. “With Elvis, we bred him and have his mother and a few of his sisters. He was claimed from us after many wins and then went on to win many more. He was retired and sent to Remember Me Rescue in Texas. A friend of mine told me he was there and we adopted him and had him brought back to Kentucky.”
Growing up on his family's farm in Frankfort, Kentucky, Buff gained his passion from horses from an early age, working on the farm from the age of 10 and eventually doing everything from foaling out mares and raising young stock to treating and reconditioning horses on layup.
“I loved and rode horses every day, and helped break and gallop our homebreds on the farm when I got older,” explained Buff. “I took out my trainer's license in the fall of 1993 and have trained on the Kentucky and Florida circuits ever since.”
This vast array of experience with Thoroughbreds allowed him to gain a unique perspective and respect for them, not just as racehorses, but as athletes and partners. That's why when Elvis, Val and Souperman were finished with their racing careers, Buff and his assistant Maria saw the potential in them to be stable ponies and help to develop the talent of his stable's future stars.
“Val was his owner, Mark Santanello's, first and only horse,” explained Buff. “His passion for horses is great and he always wanted to do the right thing for the horse. When I told him Val had gotten to the point that he couldn't compete to offset the cost [of racing him], the owner decided it was best to retire him.”
Worried about where the horse would end up, Val's owner talked with Buff about what the options were for a horse like him.
“Mark was worried Val might disappear and he would never be able to follow him again,” explained Buff. “He was relieved when I told him I would keep him as a track pony. Mark thought that was great and turned him over to me at that time.”
Buff is keenly aware of the possibility of physical or mental burnout that any horse can experience, so Val, Souperman, and Elvis rotate between life at the track and downtime at the farm. He also knows their strengths and weaknesses and is careful not to put them in situations that might make them uncomfortable.
“Val knows and loves his job,” said Buff. “He's ponied Groupie Doll and the rest of the stable to and from the track and, while he bucks some, it's never to get you off. When you have a horse in your hand, he knows it's all work. He loves to be turned out in the roundpen at Tampa with other horses. He's a great babysitter.
“Elvis goes to the track for a short time – a month or so – to give Val and Souperman a break. Elvis spent a lot of his life at the track, but he doesn't like the gates, so we try not to take him close to them. He's a great riding horse and my dad, who is 81, rode him around the farm last May.”
Buff's love and respect for Thoroughbreds, whether they be racing, breeding or riding stock, is glaringly evident. He explained that when the time comes for each of his track ponies to be retired from their off-track career, they'll enjoy their golden days at his family's farm.
“OTTBs can become useful horses,” said Buff. “With all of mine, they know their job and seem happy.”
Name: King of Speed (a.k.a. “Elvis”)
Height: 15.3 hands
Sire: Senor Speedy
Dam: Regal Export
Sale History: none
Race Record: 111-27-16-16
Race Earnings: $530,948
Name: Victory Val (a.k.a. “Val”)
Height: 16 hands
Color: Dark Bay/Brown
Sire: Yankee Victor
Dam: Rhodesian Romance
Sale History: none
Race Record: 16-1-1-1
Race Earnings: $8,995
Name: Souperman Himself (a.k.a. “Souperman”)
Sire: Alphabet Soup
Dam: Ida Treat
Sale History: none
Race Record: 18-1-1-1
Race Earnings: $12,210
If you have or know of a retired Thoroughbred with an interesting story to tell, we'd love to hear about it! Just email Jen Roytz ([email protected]) with the horse's Jockey Club name, background story, and a few photos.
Jen Roytz is the marketing and communications director at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. She also handles the farm's Thoroughbred aftercare efforts. She currently owns two retired Thoroughbreds: Point of Impact (by Point Given; a.k.a. Boomer), who retired from racing in late 2011 and is just starting back under saddle to find his forte as a riding horse, and Shotgun Shine (by Tale of the Cat, a.k.a. Gage), who is in training as a hunter/jumper. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
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