(Trainer Buff Bradley and jockey Calvin Borel embrace after a huge win in the 60th running of the G2 Hagyard-Fayette Handicap at Keeneland last October)
The Player, a handsome fellow and magnificent runner owned by Buff Bradley and his partner Carl Hurst, continues to improve from the horrific injury the colt sustained while running in the G2 New Orleans Handicap at the Fair Grounds on March 24.
We were able to catch up with my great friend, ally, and regular pen pal, Buff Bradley, this afternoon, and we were able to get a progress report. Here is what Buff had to say:
“Still a ways to go, but leg looks better and he is walking better, and standing more square,” the trainer relayed. “LSU is my second favorite school (my guess the home state university still holds some heart strings). Vets there have done a wonderful job. He has been there for over three months.”
Unfortunate turn of fate for both the affable and talented horseman, and one of his prized pupils. The colt was bred by Buff, Hurst and Buff’s late father, Fred. By Street Heron and out of the Gilded Time mare Hour Queen, The Player really looked like he was poised and ready for his best year of racing. As in, ever.
After breaking the maiden in 2016, the colt won his very next race and then ran a huge second — beaten less than a length — to the highly touted Cupid in the Indiana Derby. He was laid up after that race, though, and didn’t make a return to the races until nearly a year later, when he ran in the Kelly’s Landing Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 30, 2017. In his first race back after the 11th month layup, The Player ran a huge third to Limousine Liberal at the 7-furlong distance that is right up the latter’s ally.
But it wasn’t long before The Player was ready to make some huge noise of his own. In September 2017, he ran a huge second in the G3 Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs, losing by a length to Awesome Slew. Then, in the very next race, The Player ran away to a powerful 3-length victory in the G2 Fayette. He whipped the likes of Neolithic, McCraken, Giuseppe the Great, and Honorable Duty in that tilt.
Yet, the best looked like it was still to come. In February of this year, in just his second start of the new year, The Player was completely dominant in the G3 Mineshaft Handicap at the Fair Grounds. He ran away to a 41/4-length victory over Thirstforlife, Scuba and the rest of the overmatched pack.
Great things looked like were on the horizon.
Instead, a devastating injury loomed. Midway through the final turn of the G2 New Orleans Handicap, The Player appeared to take a bad step at the 5/16ths marker. He was pulled up by his rider, Calvin Borel, whose quick actions probably helped save the colt’s young life.
Afterwards, the colt was stabilized and then transported to LSU, where surgery was performed and multiple screws (over a dozen) were placed in his right front leg. Prayers, stall rest, and finally rehabilitation ensued. Every day hopes have continued.
Now, three months later, he is not forgotten by his family. Just last week, on a race day off, Buff Bradley jumped into his truck and drove to Louisiana just to visit with his friend, and love on his colt. The colt, you see, had stolen a special place in his trainer’s heart. In addition to being a friendly reminder of the days when the son and father would breed, raise and race their horses together, The Player had the charisma, charm, and personality of a bar room mate.
Often times, Buff would arrive at the barn and find his prized pupil lying under the webbing and nearly halfway into the shed row. It happened so often, that the trainer finally purchased a dog bedding to put his horse’s head to rest.
Sometimes, later in the day, Buff would walk around the shed row at feeding time and witness his colt sitting in the back corner of the stall — dog style. Two front legs stretched out. Sitting on his rear end. One was to wonder if the colt was waiting for his smoking jacket, a pipe and two fingers of his best bourbon for his daily cocktail.
The Player had gone from an oddity, though, to a star. While his methods of relaxation were questionable and personable, there was no mistaking his running ability. It was Stakes quality, and high octane. Most of all, though, he had gone from foolish to freakish; he had matured from folly to friend.
That is what has made the long wait for his return to Kentucky so tough, agonizing, and troublesome. But, make no mistake whatsoever, Buff Bradley knows it is worth the wait.
All he wants is for his colt to come home. And, slowly, he is working his way to doing just that.
God’s Speed, The Player. God’s Speed.