08/06/2014 7:58AM

Bradley, a giant of American racing, enters Hall of Fame

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Courtesy of Keeneland Libaray/Morgan
Col. E.R. Bradley, shown here walking off the track with Black Helen, enters the Hall of Fame as a giant of American racing.

“What is your occupation, Colonel?”

“I’m a speculator, racehorse breeder, and gambler.”

“What do you gamble in?”

“Almost anything.”

– E.R. Bradley, questioned by Senator Huey Long, before a 1934 Senate committee investigating gambling

Edward Riley Bradley’s circuitous path in life took him from the steel mills of Pennsylvania to the cover of Time magazine. He would pan for gold, befriend Wyatt Earp, open high-end hotels in Chicago, establish glitzy betting operations in Louisiana, speculate in Florida land, operate major racetracks, and breed champion racehorses. Upon his death, Bradley was a renowned capitalist, a beloved philanthropist, a gutsy gambler, and a true giant of the American turf. In recognition of his influence in racing, Bradley is being inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame as a Pillar of the Turf.

Introduced to racing in his 30s at the encouragement of doctors who felt an “outdoor distraction” would be beneficial to his then-fragile health, Bradley won his first race at Harlem, Ill., in 1898 with a horse named Friar John. Eight years later, he began acquiring the core Central Kentucky property near a small but growing town called Lexington that would eventually become the 1,500-acre showplace he would name Idle Hour Stock Farm. There, over a span of 40 years, Thoroughbred breeding history would be made.

Bradley did nothing halfway. When he decided to breed and raise Thoroughbreds, he plunged in headlong, going for the best stock money could buy. Early on, Bradley installed at Idle Hour the soon-to-be massively influential sires Black Toney and North Star III. Then, in 1930, he reached across the Atlantic to grab a young mare named La Troienne from Marcel Boussac’s Newmarket Sales consignment. She would become ancestress of countless champions and classic winners and to this day is widely regarded as the single-most important distaff importation of all time.

As a racetrack owner, Bradley developed Fair Grounds into a winter sporting wonderland and throughout the Great Depression was a major player in the Miami Jockey Club at Hialeah Park. As a philanthropist, this childless man staged one-day race meets on the Idle Hour training track during several autumns through the 1920s, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting Kentucky orphans.

He once named a horse Bad News because “bad news travels fast.” In fact, virtually all of Bradley’s horses had names beginning with the letter “B,” including future Hall of Famers Blue Larkspur, Bimelech, Black Helen, and Busher. Almost as famous was the homebred quartet who carried his green and white Idle Hour colors to victory in the Kentucky Derby over a remarkable 12-year period, beginning with Behave Yourself in 1921 and followed in succession by Bubbling Over (1926), Burgoo King (1932), and Broker’s Tip (1933). He narrowly missed a fifth with Bimelech in 1940.

Of all his life’s endeavors, nothing pleased him more than the vocation of horse racing and breeding.

“I’ll be racing on my last day,” Bradley predicted as the years flipped by.

He was wrong in this, of course, but not far off.

Bradley passed away Aug. 15, 1946, a man of full years. He died at 86 … peacefully and in the warm embrace of the farm he so loved.