There is no better person in the horse industry than Buff Bradley. None. Not one.
You see him at his barn on the backside of Churchill Downs, and he will take time to stop whatever he may be doing and chat. Even if it’s only about the weather.
Check out the interview that we had with Buff regarding The Player and the upcoming Clark Handicap. It is a great interview with one of the best young trainers in America.
You run into him on the front side, after the races are over and everyone is hustling to their cars, and he will stop whatever he may be doing to meet your mother and sister. With a polite handshake and a charismatic smile than is more genuine than his leather saddles or boots, he will take time.
You call him on the phone and ask if he has time to chat, a few days before one of the biggest races of his training life, and the answer is a quick “Sure. Any time.”
And, this isn’t a once-in-awhile attitude that he turns on and off when the cameras or the good times are both rolling. It is every day; every time; every occasion. Quiet. Professional. Classy. The world would be a better place if there were more Buff Bradley’s in it.
(Fred Bradley with his talented Brass Hat)
Then, again, I am not surprised at all by the person that Buff Bradley is, or has become. You see, I met his father, Fred Bradley, some 29 years ago when I got the opportunity to become the Executive Vice President of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association.
(Editor’s Note: Somehow, heaven only knows why, I got the job and the considerable shoes to fill after Nick Nicholson left to move over to The Jockey Club. Suffice to say, I was a bug boy in a big man’s world and I found myself trying to ride heard over one of the most independent, free-thinking, stubborn, tough and expert groups of people to ever step foot on God’s green earth. In short, I was knee deep and sinking fast. But I digress.)
One of my first jobs back then was to carry the water buck for the industry in Frankfort, KY — at the State Capitol. I was supposed to help develop and pass legislation that would help the Thoroughbred industry. I was told to ensure that nothing happened to hurt the Thoroughbred industry. And, I was instructed to make friends fast. In short, I suddenly found myself as a lobbyist. Had to go look up what one of those actually was (true story!). But, suddenly, I was one.
It just so happens that the first person I met in Frankfort, whom I didn’t already know, was a fellow by the name of Fred Bradley. Horse breeder Fred Bradley. Farmer and horse care-giver Fred Bradley. True, Hardboot Horseman Fred Bradley. And, State Senator Fred Bradley.
As naive as I was at the time (I wasn’t just wet behind the ears; I was drenched!), I knew right then and there that Fred Bradley was a guy whom I needed to know. And, a guy whom I needed to make friends with — fast.
And, so I did. More to the fact, so we did. Fred Bradley and I became friends. Every day that the General Assembly was in session, I would make my way to his office. Sometimes, we spent a half-hour or so going over what the horse industry needed to do. Sometimes, we just sat and chatted about what the world needed to do. Sometimes, we just told jokes. Fred Bradley was a master at telling jokes and stories.
One day, though, there was something truly important getting ready to happen; a bill that we had been working on for several months was about to be heard in the old Business, Occupations and Professions Committee. And, I desperately needed Fred’s help to get it done. When I finally found him, he was headed out the door in a dead run. That’s the only way Fred Bradley walked. On the dead on. He told me and Marty Maline (who was representing the HBPA way back then, too) that if we needed to talk then we had to jump in his truck and head to the nursing home. He had a speaking engagement there.
So, Marty and I jumped in the truck, straddling some bits and reins and saddles and leather oil. And, we talked as we rode. And, then we got to spend an hour visiting with a group of the elderly that we didn’t know before we headed back to the Capitol and we re-engaged in the conversation du jour.
Fred Bradley helped us that day. Fred Bradley always seemed to help us. With a grunt and a groan, Fred Bradley lifted more than just hay bales, and mucked more than a few stalls for the horse industry. He helped build the very foundation for simulcasting legislation that enabled the horse industry in Kentucky and across the country grow and prosper. And, he did it without once asking for any recognition in return. He let me and Marty get that.
Fred Bradley was just a winner. He knew how to win. And, he did.
We lost Fred Bradley on Friday, May 20, 2016. He served as Franklin County’s judge from 1970 to 1974 and served in the Kentucky State Senate from 1982 to 1998. For four years of that term, he served as the Democratic Majority Whip. Before that he served as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He had the first pizza restaurant in Frankfort, known as the Pizza Palace — which at one time had hired the entire high school football team, and, later, advertised that he would have a “topless waitress” deliver the pie. When some of his friends showed up to view the new improvements in the delivery method, Fred sure enough had delivered on his promise. The new waitress was blonde-headed and blue-eyed. It was Buff’s sister — who was 2 years old at the time, and still in diapers. The patrons knew they had been had.
But, before he left, he gave us his son, William. He gave us “Buff.” Fred, who championed himself as a horse trainer as well as a breeder, had saved his best training job for his own son. And, in this case, the carrot didn’t fall far from the tree.
At the young age of 10, Buff began working on the family farm, under the tutelage of his dad. He helped foal mares. He helped prepare mares to go to the breeding shed. He helped prep youngsters for the sales. He helped break and train the yearlings. All the while he was studying the real life of horses, he took night classes at Kentucky State University and graduated from there in 1989 with a degree in business management.
After graduation, Buff hit the road, working for long-time trainer Clarence Picou, the father of noted equine photographer Susie Picou-Oldham. Buff worked his way up in the Picou operation, until he got the title of Assistant Trainer, and he ran the barns at Remington Park, Oaklawn Park and Louisiana Down. In 1991, they teamed up to win the Super Derby with Free Spirits Joy.
A couple of years later, in 1993, Buff Bradley went out on his own and started his own training operation. But his dad was never too far away.
Together, they bred and owned the great Brass Hat, who was a multiple Grade 1 winner and earned over $2 million in earnings. He won the Indiana Derby, the Ohio Derby, the New Orleans Handicap, the Donn Handicap, the Louisville Handicap. Remarkably, on May 23, 2009 — after going winless since September of 2007, Brass Hat won the Louisville Handicap with Calvin Borel in the saddle at the age of 8. At the ripe old age of 9, he won the Sycamore Stakes to put him over $2 million mark.
Together, they bred and owned the great Groupie Doll, a two-time Champion Eclipse Award winner who captured the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint championship in both 2012 and 2013. She finished her career with over $2.6 million in earnings and closed out her brilliant race career with a decisive victory in the Hurricane Bertie Stakes.
Together, they bred and owned Stakes winner Town Queen, and the Stakes placed King of Speed, Regale and Chief Export.
Together, they formed one helluva team. And, although Buff lost his Dad, his mentor, and his best friend a few years back, they still have one more game to, er, Play Out.
(The Player, with rider Calvin Borel up)
This Friday, Buff Bradley will put the saddle on one more colt that he and his father bred — the super talented, and equally as quirky The Player in the 143rd running of the $500,000-guaranteed Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
When he was just a baby, after foaling, The Player would roll around in the field, flip-flopping up and down. On several occasions, Buff and his wife would look out in the paddock and their children would be sitting on him. At other times, the colt would be sitting down on his rear and just watching the world go by.
“My wife said, ‘Look at him. There’s something wrong with him.’ So we loaded him up and took him to the clinic. We thought there was something neurologically wrong with him,” said Buff Bradley this week. “They checked him out and told us that there was nothing wrong with him and sent him home.”
The games were just beginning. Whenever Buff tried to mow the paddock, the young version of The Player would try to crawl up on the tractor with his adopted “Dad.” Buff couldn’t shoo him away fast or far enough and ended up having to turn him into another paddock just to bush-hog the field.
A few weeks later, Buff and his beautiful wife decided to send him back to the clinic for more tests. Again, the doctors found nothing but a healthy and happy foal. “They told us to quit sending him up there, and that he was fine,” said Buff. “So, I guess we just decided then and there that he just had a lot of personality.”
And, soon they found out that the colt also had a world of talent, too. They found out that The Player had game.
As a 3-year-old, The Player flashed it when he ran a huge second to now, Grade 1 winner Cupid in the 2016 Indiana Derby. But it has been on full display of late, in a way that no one, perhaps, saw coming.
After a poor performance at Mountainner Park in West Virgina earlier this year, on a track that he obviously distained, The Player returned to Kentucky on a mission and on a roll. He nearly set a track record in an impressive allowance victory at Ellis Park. He came back with a narrow defeat to Awesome Slew in the Grade 3 Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs. And, then, came his defining moment to date:
In his first try at 11/8-miles, The Player blew away a stellar field to capture the Grade 2 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland, by an impressive and growing 3 length margin. It was, undoubtedly, the biggest win to date for the son of Street Hero.
Now, comes the Clark Handicap. A crowning achievement? One more time for Team Bradley?
We will see on Friday. But I can already tell you this, already. There will not be a classier person in the paddock, in the stands, and, hopefully, in the winner’s circle, than William “Buff” Bradley. And, he comes by that honestly.