For three days every summer, the Kentucky Horse Park becomes a mecca for horse enthusiasts of all ages.
Visitors — some traveling across the country and some across continents — converge upon the park to celebrate BreyerFest, an interactive event where attendees can watch live demonstrations, trade their collectibles, and, most importantly, meet the horses who inspired some of their favorite creations.
Each year, equine honorees are immortalized into the Breyer canon with their own model replica offered exclusively for the first time to festival patrons. Selected months before the event, "Celebration Horses" are chosen based on a variety of criteria that align with the festival’s theme.
In a special nod to racing around the globe, the focus of this year’s event is "Off to the Races." And in a special treat for Thoroughbred racing fans, this year’s Celebration Horse is none other than retired Grade 1 winner and multimillionaire Brass Hat.
Bred in Kentucky by Fred Bradley out of the unraced Dixie Brass mare Brassy, the 17-year-old gelding started 40 times and won nine stakes races, six of them graded. Trained by Bradley’s son William "Buff" Bradley, Brass Hat sustained two potentially career-ending injuries over his seven-year tenure on the track, bouncing back from both to win major stakes before retiring in 2010.
Since relocating to live out his glory days at the Bradley family’s Indian Ridge Farm, Brass Hat has balked at the idea of slowing down. Whether he’s babysitting weanlings, acting as Buff’s stable pony, or making the occasional guest appearance at Keeneland, this fan favorite runs a booked social calendar.
Now a self-appointed ambassador for retired racehorses, Buff Bradley said Brass Hat has been prepping for his close-up at BreyerFest, where more than 10,000 visitors are expected to arrive over the three-day period.
“He likes to have his photo taken,” Bradley said. “He recognizes when there are cameras around.”
While Bradley, like the rest of the world, has had to wait in line for the unveiling of his protégé’s Breyer model, he feels the real value in events like BreyerFest is their ability to connect fans with the horses who have captured their imaginations.
“It’s very important that people recognize retired racehorses and the options and possibilities that lie ahead of them after they retire from the racing part of their careers,” Bradley said.
“I think that having a celebrity horse such as Brass Hat is really good, because he did race for six years and he was a fan favorite. I think that people can see that, and once they learn about his stats, what he did, and his story, I think it does show them how these horses are utilized for other things once they’re finished with their racing career.
“It brings a lot to our sport to show how we do take care of our horses after they’re done racing.”
Already on location and ready for Friday’s festival kickoff, Brass Hat will make an appearance in the show ring each day of the event. He will be ridden by Bradley’s assistant Maria Kabel.
As for Brass Hat’s fans, Bradley thinks there will be some old and some new vying for a meet-a-greet but that Brass Hat is ready to take it all in stride just as he’s done his entire career.
“I’ve had people calling me all week telling me they’re going to try to go. I think there are some people there that are already fans of his, and it’ll be great to see the new ones, too.”—Meredith Daugherty