02/12/2009 1:00AM

Back in ring for 8-year-old Brass Hat

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Brass Hat has been an amazing story ever since he stunned the Lane's End crowd at Turfway Park nearly five years ago by winning the 2004 Rushaway Stakes as a 38-1 maiden.

Later at 3, he won the Ohio Derby and Indiana Derby. At 5, he won the New Orleans and Donn handicaps, not to mention suffering an agonizing disqualification from $1.2 million in purse earnings for a controversial medication overage after he had run second in the Dubai World Cup. At 6, he won the Massachusetts Handicap and was runner-up in the Clark Handicap.

Brass Hat failed to post a win from five starts last year, but his season was cut short in June when he "came up with a little filling in a suspensory ligament," said trainer Buff Bradley, who has been along for the entire wild ride. "Not a tear or a hole, just a little heat. They told us to give him a few weeks off, but as good as he's been to us, I gave him three months.'

The vacation ends Saturday when Brass Hat, now 8, makes his long-awaited return in the $50,000 Dust Commander Stakes at Turfway in Florence, Ky. Nine other older horses will oppose Brass Hat in the one-mile race, which anchors a 12-race card that begins at 1:10 p.m. Eastern.

"He's doing well," said Bradley, whose father, Fred, bred and own Brass Hat, an earner of nearly $1.8 million from 26 starts. "This race should tell us if he's back, and to what degree it might be. My father, family, and barn staff are excited to get him back to the races, and even at age 8 he still looks and acts like he's 5."

Trainer Mike Maker will try to ruin Brass Hat's return when he sends out perhaps the top two challengers, Canela and Officer Rocket, as an uncoupled entry. Maker won the 2008 Dust Commander with Self Made Man and is the leading trainer at the current winter-spring meet at Turfway, despite having his top string of horses at Gulfstream Park.

* One race earlier Saturday, jockey Justin Vitek will have his first ride in nearly a year when he climbs aboard Model's Memo in a six-furlong allowance race. Vitek, 35, was diagnosed last February with leukemia, which since has gone into remission.