01/07/2006 1:00AM

Brass Hat looks better than ever

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Brass Hat looks like he might be even better as a 5-year-old than he was at 3. A two-time derby winner, Brass Hat won his second straight stakes as an older horse on Saturday, when he swept past the leaders for a two and a half length victory in the Grade 2, $435,600 at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs.

Dixie Meister won a photo for second over favorite and pacesetter Alumni Hall.

Brass Hat ($7.60), who missed most of last year because of injury, broke from the rail and rode it, racing about six lengths behind Alumni Hall, who led the field through an opening quarter in 24.88 seconds. Brass Hat moved to the outside of horses along the backside, with Alumni Hall continuing to lead through a half-mile in 50.26. In the final turn, Brass Hat was full of run and went on to cover the mile and an eighth under a hand ride in 1:51.35.

"In the past, as a 3-year-old, I don't think we got to see the best of Brass Hat," said Willie Martinez, who was aboard the winner for trainer William "Buff" Bradley.

"We're happy to have him back at the races."

Brass Hat won the Grade 2 Indiana Derby and Grade 2 Ohio Derby before sustaining a condylar fracture to his right front ankle in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby in October 2004. He came into the New Orleans off a win in the $50,000 Prairie Bayou at Turfway Park on Dec. 17, which was his second start back from the layoff. For his win on Saturday, Brass Hat earned $261,360, and improved his career record to five wins from 12 starts for earnings of $917,090.

Brass Hat races for his breeder, Fred F. Bradley, who is the father of Buff Bradley. He is a 5-year-old gelding by Prized. Buff Bradley said Brass Hat's next start is yet to be determined, but he plans to look at the stakes program at the upcoming meet at Oaklawn Park.

The New Orleans order of finish was completed by West Virginia in fourth, Mr. Trieste, M B Sea, Silver Axe and Sanctuary's Omooni.

Handle on the 11-race card Saturday was a meet-high $5,477,020, with $264,297 of that amount ontrack. The New Orleans is the richest race of the meet at Fair Grounds.

* On the undercard, Equestrian Girls ($16) rallied past 3-5 favorite Our Love late to win the $75,000 Red Camelia on turf by two and a half lengths. Our Love was clear through fractions of 46.24 seconds for the opening half-mile and 1:10.91 for six furlongs before being overtaken by Equestrian Girls, who was ridden by Jose Riquelme. Equestrian Girls is trained by Kelly Broussard.

* Josh's Madelyn ($3.80) rallied past the leaders with ease for a three and a quarter length win over Granny's Pride in the $60,000 Paz Zareta, an overnight stakes for fillies and mares. She covered six furlongs in 1:11.26. Terry Thompson rode the winner for trainer Larry Jones.