Oh, the Things Brass Hat Could Tell Us

Brass Hat would be a perfect candidate for public office in Kentucky.

He was born in the Bluegrass, is an underdog that exceeded all expectations, overcame injury and adversity, has a pretty good following and, perhaps most importantly, can only speak through his actions.

Oh for politicians and industry officials who would talk less and do more.

Brass Hat paraded in the paddock at Turfway Park Oct. 2 as part of an interactive fan appreciation day put on by horsemen and track management. The 9-year-old gelding, who has trained at Turfway his entire career, looked really good and is expected to race later this fall in Kentucky.

Brass Hat began his career in a $15,000 maiden claiming race in January 2004 at Turfway, and in March that year broke his maiden in the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes there. He went on to win eight stakes—a grade I, three grade IIs, and two grade IIIs—and has earned $2.1 million.

Brass Hat also finished second in the prestigious group I Dubai World Cup, only to be disqualified and placed last for a medication “violation” that embarrassed the horse racing industry a lot more than it embarrassed his connections.

The gelding is a poster boy for much of what’s good about horse racing, and also for a Kentucky racing circuit that’s in serious jeopardy.

Photo: Pat Lang
Caption: Willie Martinez, who visited with Brass Hat at Turfway Oct. 2, rode him to several of his major stakes victories.

Didn’t see his trainer, Buff Bradley, at Turfway, but his absence probably had to do with the fact he had a horse in at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in neighboring Indiana that day. Bradley’s horse finished second in a $33,000 starter allowance race.

The purse was the second-lowest on the $1 million Indiana Derby program at Hoosier Park. It also was higher than any purse offered at Turfway during its 16-day late summer-early fall meet with the exception of a $100,000 grade III stakes.

That’s pathetic, and it keeps getting worse with each passing year. For the record, when Brass Hat raced in a maiden special weight event at Turfway in February 2004, the purse was $29,600. Seven years later, the purse is $21,000.

Like members of Congress, who left Washington, D.C., early despite having plenty to do in order to prepare for the November election, Kentucky politicians are missing in action. It’s all about politicking and glad-handing in advance of November.

There wasn’t a lawmaker in sight at Turfway—nothing new, by the way—for a day designed to get the public involved in horse racing at a very critical time for the industry. The crowd on a chilly, rainy afternoon was good, probably about 3,500.

On hand were Bill and Susan Casner, who displayed their 2010 Kentucky Derby trophy in a tent adjacent the paddock. Casner, co-owner of WinStar Farm in Central Kentucky, credited trainer David England and Turfway management for putting together the fan appreciation program that placed an emphasis on getting families to the track.

“It’s going to require innovation and people thinking outside of the box,” said Bill Casner, who raced three horses on the Saturday program. “It will require the industry to come together and find new ways to reinvent itself. I also hope we get some recognition from our legislature, because it’s a stone cold fact Kentucky is losing its horse industry.”

Despite the industry mantra that a year-round racing circuit is critical to Kentucky, didn’t see anyone from the entities that own Turfway, didn’t see any racing commissioners, didn’t see industry leadership.

Just how important is this?

Granted, there’s a lot going on in Kentucky with the World Equestrian Games, the Secretariat movie, and other events. There’s also preparation for October and November racing at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, arguably the best in the state all year, and that’s not counting the Nov. 5-6 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill.

These are all good, important things, but in two months, it will be a case of here and gone. Turfway will reopen for four months, and Kentucky racing most likely will be where it is now—going nowhere.

It was kind of laughable watching Lexington rush to make all those downtown improvements for the WEG visitors in town for only two weeks. What about the hundreds of thousands of people who live in the city and pay taxes year-round? Where are the priorities?

The superficiality is typical of Kentucky, and the horse industry isn’t immune. The real issues will be pooh-poohed for the next two months before reality sets in again. Then what?

Brass Hat can’t verbalize, but he really doesn’t have to. He can send the message loud and clear through his actions.

All he has to do is drop a pile of manure.

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