12/15/2005 12:00AM

Brass Hat comeback entering step two

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Not many horses can win two derbies and still fly as low on the racing radar as Brass Hat has.

"He really hasn't gotten much notoriety at all," said William "Buff" Bradley, who trains Brass Hat for his father, Fred Bradley. "But what he's done is still a big deal to us, and that's the main thing."

Brass Hat, a homebred 4-year-old gelding, made his career debut in January 2004. He lost his first two starts, and then, still a maiden, he won the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park at nearly 39-1. He concluded his year with back-to-back victories in the Ohio Derby and Indiana Derby and a ninth-place finish as the 2-1 favorite in the Lone Star Derby, a race in which he suffered a condylar fracture in his right front ankle.

Brass Hat immediately underwent surgery for the fracture in Texas, then was given "plenty of time," said Bradley, on the family farm in Frankfort, Ky. The family purchased an Equicizer exercise machine that allowed Brass Hat to gradually work his way back to the racetrack.

Brass Hat recently returned from a layoff of nearly 13 months by finishing seventh, beaten 6 1/4 lengths, in a Nov. 24 turf allowance at Churchill Downs. Bradley believes that comeback effort should go a long way in making Brass Hat a prime contender in the $50,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes on Saturday at Turfway in Florence, Ky.

"I honestly think he's come back better than he ever was," said Bradley, who moved his stable from the Trackside training center in Louisville to Turfway after the Churchill meet ended Nov. 26. "We knew going into his last race the odds were against us for a few reasons. Since that race, he's been great. He loves the Polytrack. He looks like a train moving across it."

Brass Hat, with Willie Martinez to ride, is one of 11 3-year-olds and upward entered in the 11th running of the 1 1/8-mile Prairie Bayou, which goes as the 10th of 12 races Saturday at Turfway.

Probably the top threat to Brass Hat is Scipion, the stretch-running 3-year-old who won the Grade 3 Risen Star earlier this year. Scipion, trained by Patrick Biancone, also is based at Turfway.

The Prairie Bayou is named for the Loblolly Stable gelding who in 1993 won the Jim Beam, Blue Grass, and Preakness before suffering a fatal injury in the Belmont Stakes. Turfway first held the Prairie Bayou in 1995.