A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
During the second major week of the Breeders’ Cup season, the Win and You’re In spotlight shone on Churchill Downs as horses vied for spots in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Longines Distaff.
The winner of the Distaff spot will be covered in coming weeks but today is all about Bradester, winner of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap and an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Debuting in late 2012, Bradester has been a mainstay in horse racing for nearly four years.
After finishing first or second in his first four starts, Bradester made his first stakes start in the Indiana Derby in late 2013. Staying near the lead for the entire race, he earned his first stakes placing when finishing second to Power Broker by 1 ¾ lengths. He returned to the allowance level for his next three starts before taking another step back up to graded stakes again.
This time Bradester was ready for the challenge, winning the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap. Since then, Bradester has run at the graded stake level in all but one race. While he has had some bumps in the road, he’s also been one of the more consistent horses out there. Placing first or second in three of his six graded stakes races after the Mineshaft in 2014, he’s gotten even better since then.
Bradester started 2015 in Dubai when he ran in the Godolphin Mile but that didn’t go well for the horse with a 13th-place finish. Returning to the track a little over a month later, he finished third in an allowance optional claimer behind stakes winner Agent Di Nozzo to kick off what has become a turning point in his career.
Spending his summer campaigning at Monmouth Park, Bradester dominated at the track. He scored a career-high 127 Equibase Speed Figure when leading nearly wire-to-wire in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile. A month later, he did the same in the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup for his first victory at the level. It was only in late August when he stretched out to 1 1/8 miles and was challenged nearly every step of the way that Valid, who had finished behind him in the previous two races, was able to beat him by 3 ½ lengths.
Dropping back to a mile, Bradester ended his season last year by making his first start at Keeneland where he finished ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Bradester was given a lengthy break after the Breeders’ Cup and returned to the races at Monmouth in late May this year. Dropping back to an easy ungraded stakes, Bradester won the Majestic Light by 2 ¼ lengths over Adirondack King.
That leads us to the Stephen Foster.
The Stephen Foster wasn’t a long-term goal for the horse with his connections deciding to enter him fairly late in the game. Stretching out to 1 1/8 miles for only the third time in his 23 race career, he was also making only his second Grade 1 start.
Bradester took the lead almost immediately after the gate open and while Majestic Harbor was within a head of him for a few strides, Bradester was quickly allowed to control the race from the front end. At the top of the stretch, jockey Joe Bravo finally got to work on Bradester while the closing Eagle started to make his move with Majestic Harbor still putting pressure on him as well. Eagle and Majestic Harbor steadily cut into Bradester’s lead but the wire came too quickly for either to take away the win. Bradester won the race by half a length to earn a valuable Grade 1 win and a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
2016 STEPHEN FOSTER HANDICAP
“This race came up with a shorter field than in past years, so we figured it was a good opportunity for him to take a shot at some Grade 1 horses,” said trainer Eddie Kenneally. “Looking at the form he is the true speed of the race. We didn’t know if he was going to be pressed through the first part of the race too hard and maybe just get the air knocked out of him, but I felt like if he could dictate the pace all alone on the front end that he could run them into the ground. (Jockey) Joe (Bravo) rode him with so much confidence and we are just so delighted for the whole team. We have a great crew and we couldn’t have done any of this without them.”
While Bradester has a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it is possible we’ll see him back in the Dirt Mile during Breeders’ Cup weekend. After having his own way in the race, Bradester still didn’t look like going an extra furlong would have been in his favor and odds are likely that he will have to deal with more speed in the Classic. However, Bradester has proven in his career that he is a gutsy horse and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fight back if someone headed him in the stretch of the Classic.
I think that Bradester has really come in to his own this year and will be dangerous in Grade 1s this summer. But with his performance in the Stephen Foster compared to his success at about a mile, I’m not sure he’ll have the needed kick to put away the top horses in the division when going the extra furlong in the Classic. An important thing to remember is that it is just June and a lot can change in the division and with Bradester himself over the next five months. Combine that with Santa Anita seeming to help speed horses carry themselves farther and he could have a recipe for earning a blanket of flowers at the Breeders’ Cup.
One of the first things jockey Joe Bravo said when he returned to the winner’s circle after the Foster was that Bradester reminded him of his sire Lion Heart, and Bravo would know. Bravo was on Lion Heart for his last three races, including a win in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.
Lion Heart was a $1.4-million 2-year-old purchase and started his stallion career in 2005 after winning five of 10 races, including four graded stakes. A winner from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, Lion Heart has sired horses who can go longer with Dangerous Midge winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Lion Heart has sired 36 stakes winners including Canadian Horse of the Year Uncaptured, Arkansas Derby winner Line of David (who is the sire of 2015 Kentucky Derby runner-up Firing Line) and four-time Jamaican champion Ronron.
Bradester comes from Lion Heart’s final U.S. conceived crop, as the stallion was sold to Turkey at the beginning of the 2010 season. In 2008 and 2009, Lion Heart led all first and second-crop stallions by number of winners. He beat everyone in his category out in both winners and earners the following year when topping all third-crop sires thanks to Dangerous Midge’s win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Bradester’s dam Grandestofall raced only three times with her lone win coming at six furlongs, the longest she raced at. Of her four foals to race, three have been winners but two have been sprinters.
Under his first four dams (mother through great-great grandmother), there are six stakes winners including Bradester. Looking at their success brings a little more of a question to how far he can go, with four of them winning their stakes at a mile or less. Only Bradester and the Freud gelding Talk Therapy have gone longer with Talk Therapy winning his stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
There’s no doubt that Bradester is the kind of hard-knocking horse I love to see have Grade 1 success. But at this stage of the game, he needs to prove a few more times that he can win at 1 1/8 miles or longer before I am convinced he can replicate his Stephen Foster success in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.