By Dan Liebman
A few years ago, we made the drive from Central Kentucky to Ellis Park to see one of our fillies make her first start.
There, sitting in a chair on the apron and wearing a big straw hat, was Fred Bradley.
Fred started running bets for his Dad at the tender age of six at what was then Dade Park (now Ellis). He had been to Ellis every summer since.
On Friday, Fred died at the age of 85, having suffered from the effects of dementia for the past several years.
My father met Fred in the late 1940s, when Dad was attending the University of Kentucky Law School and Fred was an undergraduate. They remained friends the rest of their lives.
Fred was the epitome of a “small” breeder, developing his Indian Ridge Farm outside my hometown of Frankfort, Ky. He refused to pay much for stud fees, foaled the mares himself, and raced most of the offspring, in recent years with his son, Buff, as trainer.
Racing fans recall the two stars of the stable, champion Groupie Doll and the grand gelding Brass Hat, the latter now being ridden in horse shows by Fred's granddaughter.
Fred bought the dams of Brass Hat and Groupie Doll as yearling, Brassy for $5,000 and Deputy Doll for $25,000.
Fred, of course, was much more than a horse breeder. He flew jet fighters, rising to the rank of general; owned a small trucking firm; practiced law; and was elected county judge and state senator.
And despite those accomplishments, he was at home on the apron at Ellis Park and as comfortable watching a cheap claimer as he was one of hit stakes horses.
A couple of years ago, we had the winter of discontent for breeders. A yearling filly broke her hip and despite attempts to save her, was put down. A mare died of colic; another of EPM.
Fred brought a friend into our restaurant and insisted I go through it again. I recounted having the filly and one of the mares in a Central Kentucky vet clinic at the same time, in slings in adjoining stalls. I told of the mare that was put down after suffering a colic attack.
“People have no idea how hard this business is,” Fred said. “I don't mean to make lite of your terrible run of luck. I just think people need to hear how hard it is, and how it affects you.”
In the restaurant, we have a table over which hang photos of Brass Hat and Groupie Doll. We call it the “Bradley Corner.” Fred never sat there.
(Come to think of it, Buff never does either.)
Fred was down to earth, unpretentious. It would not have been his style to sit there.
Our next photo to hang there will be one of Fred.
Hopefully someone has one of him at Ellis Park.