05/22/2008 12:00AM

Brass Hat seeks first win on turf


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It would be ironic if Brass Hat were sent away the favorite - which seems entirely possible - in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap, the 1 1/2-mile turf race that anchors an 11-race Saturday program at Churchill Downs.

From 11 starters, only one has never won on turf, and it's Brass Hat, the 117-pound highweight.

"He's always handled any kind of surface, except for cuppy," Buff Bradley, the trainer of Brass Hat, said Thursday. "His last race on the Keeneland turf was excellent, and he came off the track bouncing this morning. Right now, we know he's right, so we think he's got a great shot in this race."

With a third-place finish last month in the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland, Brass Hat is now winless in four career turf tries - so, clearly, a collective decision by racing fans to make him their favorite in the $150,000 Louisville Handicap would be based largely on the overall body of work the 7-year-old gelding has amassed. With more than $1.75 million in earnings - which doesn't include an additional $1.2 million from which he was disqualified for a medication violation following a runner-up finish in the 2006 Dubai World Cup - there can be little doubt Brass Hat is the most accomplished runner in the field.

Still, there are other viable alternatives in this 71st running of the Louisville, which is carded as the 10th race. One is Silverfoot, an 8-year-old gelding who swept three straight runnings of the Louisville (2004-06). Unfortunately, his most recent victory in any race came in the 2006 running, although a decent fifth-place finish in the April 25 Elkhorn suggests he might be primed for an unprecedented fourth Louisville triumph.

Other possibilities include Transduction Gold, winner of the Grade 3 Sycamore last fall at Keeneland; Birdbirdistheword, a sharp winner of a main-track allowance here two weeks ago; Pickapocket, an allowance winner over the Keeneland turf last month; and Lord Carmen, a hard-hitting Illinois-bred veteran.

One hard-to-miss change in the Louisville involves Brass Hat. Calvin Borel has the mount, which will make him the first jockey in more than four years other than Willie Martinez to ride the gelding. Martinez, currently active at Presque Isle Downs, no longer rides on the Kentucky circuit.

"It was a very hard decision, because Willie's been great for us, but it was time for a change," Bradley said.