Louisville Magazine

APR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 4.19 81 The Charmer A sentimental horseman. A charismatic athlete. An injury without a chance. By Brandon Quick Photos by Mickie Winters Jockey Calvin Borel felt some- thing go horribly awry with the stride of his mount, e Player, entering the home stretch of the New Orleans Handicap on March 24, 2018, at Fair Grounds Race Course. Borel quickly pulled back on the reins and eased the strapping, five-year-old bay colt to a halt. Frankfort-based trainer Buff Bradley's heart had risen to the proximity of his throat by this time, but he waited for the last horses to cross the wire before tossing his sport coat to a member of the gate crew and sprinting a hundred yards or so to join Borel and the broken horse he'd bred and trained, but mostly loved. By the time Bradley arrived, the track ambulance and veterinarian were on the scene. It wasn't just bad news; it was the worst. e Player had suffered a cata- strophic injury to his right foreleg, and putting him down right there would have been nothing more than standard operat- ing procedure in most cases. A more hesi- tant trainer might get the horse back to the barn before reaching the same conclusion, but the inevitable seemed to loom. Complicating the impending doom was Bradley's personal connection to the charismatic runner. He bred the horse at the family's Frankfort farm, Indian Ridge, and owned both the horse's mother and grandmother. To talk with Bradley for even a few minutes is to understand that he's an aw-shucks throwback to a simpler time. He's all manners, all class. e son of former Kentucky Sen. Fred Bradley, William "Buff" Bradley, now 55, took a shine to the horses from an early age, and seemingly never lost the innocence of a farm boy — perhaps a tribute to never working a day doing something he didn't love. Despite his dad's chagrin, Bradley chose a career in horse racing just after college, going to work as an assistant for Clarence Picou, who trained many Bradley horses over the years. By 1989, Bradley was training horses on his own, and he has always filled his barn with an eclectic cast of orough- breds, consisting of a few homebreds along with horses he trains for other owners. A look at Bradley's small to mid-size stable will usually feature every kind of horse, from cheap claimers to stakes-caliber. e recently divorced Bradley has three chil- dren, ranging in age from 15 to 24, and he points out that the seven-day-a-week schedule and nomadic existence of a horse trainer is tough on the family life. But heartache in the racing game isn't just limited to the domestic side of things — it's all around you, every day. Backsides are littered with hardened souls. Most have an attachment to the animals they work with, but with that affection comes a detachment that is necessary for survival. ese contradictions go on and on. You've got to be optimistic while knowing the worst is always just around the corner, and pessimistic while hoping for the best. As Bradley planted his heels in the Fair Grounds dirt, he said to himself, "is'll be it." No more racing. No more training. No more enjoyment from the game that had given him so much. It may have been better to have never loved at all. ere are trainers and there are horsemen. Buff Bradley is both, and from the minute e Player was pulled from Hour Queen's womb at Indian Ridge, a bond began to form. Hour Queen belonged to the Bradleys and longtime family friend Carl Hurst, and so too had her mother, Town Queen. e Player — one of 21,429 foals born in the United States in 2013, according to Jockey Club statistics — was the result of Hour Queen's breeding with Street Hero, a son of Street Cry just like 2007 Ken- tucky Derby winner Street Sense. Even so, people weren't lining up to breed to Street Hero. To put this in perspective, breeding a horse and training a horse are as segment- ed and disparate a pair of occupations as the manufacturing and selling of automo- biles. You specialize in one or the other, and almost no one does both. e Player was steeped in Bradley family tradition and remembrances but didn't have a pedigree that would have com- manded attention in the commercial sales ring. Essentially, all racehorses are bred with the hope to make money, by selling, racing or breeding them. But a Bradley homebred is part racehorse, part family. If things don't work out on the track or in the breeding shed, there's always a place on the farm. From the first few steps on spindly legs, e Player was a funny little guy. His package of idiosyncrasies and quirks were as odd as they were concerning. When e Player was less than 48 hours old, Bradley consulted doctors about a fever, and when the colt was about two weeks old, Bradley noticed his affinity for sitting back on his haunches like a dog — a peculiar habit that would eventually endear him further to the legions of fans he'd accumulate. "We actually thought something was neurolog- ically wrong," Bradley says. "But we had him checked thoroughly and the vet said, 'nah, this guy is a rock star.'" Bradley's ex-wife, Kim, who still works with him today, had a penchant for naming horses after musicians and gave the colt the pet name Angus, after AC/DC guitarist Angus Young. e Player's formal name was a tribute to his playful disposition.

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