The Player: The Quirky Colt Who Survived The Unsurvivable

Updated: May 6, 2020

A horse’s legs are the most complex part of their body. Of their 205 bones, 40 are in their front legs and 40 are in their back legs. In addition to this, the average horse carries 58% of their weight on their front legs. This means that the average Thoroughbred will put almost 600ibs on their front legs alone. It is very unlikely that a horse will recover when it breaks a leg. Horses need all four legs in order to walk. Throwing a horse up in a sling long enough to recover just doesn’t work most of the time. Even if a horse does manage to recover, the chance of re-injury is extremely high. This is why it was so shocking that The Player was able to recover from a serious injury in his right front-leg.

Before The Player was fighting for his life at Louisiana State University, he was a charismatic and quirky foal at Indian Ridge Farm near Frankfort, Kentucky. He had a good pedigree. His sire, Street Hero, was a successful juvenile in 2008, scoring a win in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and snatching third place finishes in two other G1s. His dam, Hour Queen, was by another strong Juvenile colt - Gilded Time.

Although he had a good pedigree, breeder, owner, and trainer William Bradley was concerned that his horse had some kind of neurological damage. He couldn’t imagine any other reason why a flight animal would sit on his hind-end in his paddock. The colt would even turn around while still sitting to gaze in another direction. However, no veterinarians could find a problem with the colt. He was simply quirky. These quirks did not come to a halt when he entered training as a racehorse. He would lie down and eat his hay or stick his head out of the stall to watch everyone pass by from the ground.

The Player raced for the first time on Sep. 26, 2015, finishing fourth. He did not race again until April 9, 2016, finishing second at Keeneland and then breaking his maiden at Churchill in May. He won an allowance at Churchill in June before shipping to Indiana Grand to run in the Indiana Derby (G2). The Indiana Derby was The Player’s first try in graded stakes company. He performed quite well, narrowly finishing second to Cupid. He took another long layoff from racing. He returned with a 3rd place finish in the Kelly’s Landing Overnight Stakes in June of 2017. He then finished 6th that August in West Virginia Governor's Stakes at Mountaineer before dropping down in class to win an allowance race at Ellis Park.

[Video: Watch The Player (#5) finish second in the Indiana Derby]

After his allowance win, The Player was stepped back up in class. He finished 2nd in the Ack Ack Stakes (G3) at Churchill and was then taken to Keeneland for the Hagyard Fayette Stakes (G2). He won with ease.

Thing were looking up for The Player, so he was entered into his first Gr.1 Race - the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. The race was dominated by Gun Runner; The Player finished 5th.

The Player did not race again that year. He came back to the track in January of 2018 for the Louisiana Stakes at Fairgrounds. The five-year old finished fifth and then won the Mineshaft Handicap (G3). Once again, things were looking up for The Player. Although he was not terribly consistent with his placing in races, he always tried his hardest. He was therefore entered in the New Orleans Handicap (G2). The race, however, would turn out to be a tragedy for the colt and his connections.

The Player and jockey Calvin Borel were leading throughout the race until they went around the far turn. Borel quickly pulled up the colt, jumped off, and held the horse’s front right leg in his hands. William Bradley sprinted down the track towards his beloved horse to find out the worst - The Player had broken the sesamoids in his right, front-leg. All the tendons and ligaments were destroyed with it.

Horses do not usually recover from injuries like this, but the colt’s connections were not willing to give up on him without even trying. They loved him like he was their child. The Player, affectionately called “Angus”, had descended from generations of the Bradley's horses. He was special to them.

The colt underwent a seven hour long surgery at Louisiana State University. The veterinarians put a plate and sixteen screws in the horse’s leg. It took him two hours to stand up after surgery. Though the surgery was successful, it was still unclear if The Player would survive. He ran this risk of getting laminitis, the same ailment that led to the euthanization of Barbaro.

The Player did face complications. He got an infection, swollen tendons, and a screw partially broke. It took him six months to recover enough to make his journey home to Indian Ridge Farm in Kentucky.

William Bradley stretched out the drive from LSU to Kentucky. What should have only taken twelve hours took several days. Bradley would sit in the back of the trailer with his horse, feeding him peppermints and taking videos to post on social media for his adoring fans. At night they would stop at the farms of people kind enough to let them stay so that The Player could receive adequate rest.

The Player officially arrived home on Sept. 21, 2018. Bradley says that although The Player will always have an off gait, he is comfortable and not in any sort of pain. He was truly one of the lucky ones.