12/20/2005 1:00AM

Brass Hat to New Orleans 'Cap

Patrick Lang/Lang Photography
Brass Hat, winning the Prairie Bayou, will make his third start off a layoff in the Jan. 7 New Orleans 'Cap.

Brass Hat, a convincing winner of the Prairie Bayou Stakes last weekend at Turfway Park, will make his next start in the Grade 2, $400,000 New Orleans Handicap, said trainer Buff Bradley.

"He came out of the race in great shape," said Bradley, who trains Brass Hat for his father, Fred. "After the race my father and I started to figure out what to do next, and we said, 'Let's go for the big money.' He's earned a shot to at least try."

Brass Hat, a 4-year-old homebred gelding by Prized, will be ridden again by Willie Martinez in the New Orleans Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile race that will be run Jan. 7 at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs.

At this point, the prospective field for the race does not include many big-name handicap horses, which is one reason the Bradleys are eager to ship from their Turfway base in Florence, Ky. Nominations for the race close Saturday.

Brass Hat's start in the Prairie Bayou was his second since returning from a layoff of more than a year. Brass Hat had fractured a front ankle in the Lone Star Derby on Oct. 29, 2004. Buff Bradley said before the Prairie Bayou that he strongly believed Brass Hat had returned "even better" than before being injured.

Somewhat surprisingly, Brass Hat was just the fourth choice among nine betting interests in the Prairie Bayou, even though he entered the race as a three-time stakes winner. "I walked out of the paddock and saw he was even-money and said, 'Well, they are going to bet him,' " said Bradley. "Then he pays $11.40. It'd be hard for me to tell you why."

Bradley said he probably would send Brass Hat to Louisiana Downs four or five days before the New Orleans Handicap. Although he has been based in Kentucky for the last decade or so, Bradley is quite familiar with Louisiana Downs, having worked as an assistant to the late Clarence Picou in the early 1990's. In fact, Bradley was Picou's assistant when Freespirit's Joy, a Louisiana-bred longshot, captured the Super Derby in 1991, when the race carried a $1 million purse.

Brass Hat earned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure with his 2 1/2-length victory in the Prairie Bayou. Last year, Brass Hat earned a 103 when he won the Ohio Derby and a 106 when he won the Indiana Derby.

High on Tactical Warning's potential

Tactical Warning, claimed from a successful career debut at Churchill Downs last month, will make her first start for her new connections when she runs in a competitive field in the Thursday feature at Turfway, a $25,000 mile allowance for 2-year-old fillies.

Jeff Talley claimed Tactical Warning for $30,000 from the first race Nov. 12 at Churchill, where she rallied from last to win by nearly three lengths. At the time, Tactical Warning was owned by her breeder, Overbrook Farm.

"I've always been a big fan of Overbrook horses," said Talley, who was a longtime racing fan and businessman before taking out a trainer's license about four years ago. "She's out of a Forty Niner mare, which I really like, and I was looking to take a chance on a young horse. She looks to be very promising and trains as if she has a lot of quality."

Talley, 44, and Jana Wagner are the co-owners of Tactical Warning, who drew post 4 in a field of 10. Jesus Castanon, the leading rider at Turfway's holiday meet, has the mount.

The featured ninth race is the lone allowance on a 10-race program. First post is 5:30 p.m. Eastern.

Track's holiday racing schedule

As usual, Turfway is working its racing schedule around the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Following the Friday program, the track will be dark Saturday and Sunday.

Starting Monday, however, Turfway will race eight straight days, from Dec. 26 through Jan. 2. Post time every day will be 1:10 p.m. Eastern. The track will be dark

Jan. 3 and 4, then resume its regular schedule with an evening program on Thursday, Jan. 5.

If only for the purposes of record-keeping, the Dec. 31 program ends the holiday meet, and the Jan. 1 program starts the winter-spring meet.