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Edward R. Bradley

Edward R. Bradley
Born December 12, 1859
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, United States
Died August 15, 1946
Lexington, Kentucky,
United States
Resting place Calvary Cemetery, Lexington
Residence Lexington Kentucky & Palm Beach, Florida
Occupation Businessman:
Casino Operator
Racehorse owner/breeder
Racetrack owner, Philanthropist
Spouse(s) Agnes Cecilia Curry
Parents none
Awards Kentucky colonel

Colonel Edward Riley Bradley (December 12, 1859 – August 15, 1946) was an American steel mill laborer, gold miner, businessman and philanthropist. As well as a race track proprietor, he was the preeminent owner and breeder of Thoroughbred racehorses in the Southern United States during the first three decades of the 20th Century. Testifying before a United States Senate committee in April 1934, Bradley identified himself as a "speculator, raiser of race horses and gambler." He made the cover of TIME magazine on May 7, 1934 and in the year 2000, the Florida Department of State honored him as one of their Great Floridians.

Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania of Irish descent, there is more legend than fact concerning Bradley's early years between 1874 until his arrival in St. Augustine, Florida in 1891.His ancestors are from the town of Draperstown in Ireland.His father is buried in the Sixtowns Chapel in Draperstown.By the time he had amassed a fortune in business and was being written about in newspapers and magazines across the United States, Bradley fueled the myths by revealing almost nothing about those years. What is known is that at age fourteen, Edward Bradley was working as a roller in a steel mill before heading for Texas in 1874 to work on a ranch. During the Wild West era, legend says that he traveled about, working as a cowboy, a scout for General Nelson A. Miles during the Indian War campaigns, and was a friend of Wyatt Earp and considered Billy the Kid to be bad news.


Gaming businesses

Whatever the myths may be, Bradley did in fact become successful as a gambler and eventually established a bookmaking partnership that served horse racing bettors at race tracks in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee and in St. Louis, Missouri where he married local girl, Agnes Cecilia Curry. He eventually went to Chicago, Illinois where he would own a hotel, and probably a sports betting operation, and maintain business interests for the remainder of his life.

By 1891, Bradley had accumulated considerable wealth. Recognizing the potential in sunny Florida, he went to St. Augustine in 1891 where he speculated in real estate. In 1898, an opprtunity arose that led him to build the Beach Club on Lake Worth Lagoon in Palm Beach. The exclusive restaurant and private gambling casino made him enormously wealthy and he would expand operations to New Orleans, Louisiana with the opening of the Palmetto Club.

Thoroughbred horse racing

In 1898 Edward Bradley purchased his first race horse which quickly led to the acquisition of others and in 1906 he bought Ash Grove Stock Farm, a 400-acre (1.6 km2) property near Lexington, Kentucky which he renamed Idle Hour Stock Farm. Acquiring additional land, the expanded 1,000 acre (4 km²) farm became the leading Thoroughbred breeding operation in the American South and added greatly to the rise of Kentucky as the most important horse breeding state in America and the Kentucky Derby as the country's premier race.

At Idle Hour Stock farm, Bradley built first class stables and breeding and training facilities. The Colonial style architecture of its barns featured vita glass windows, designed to be transparent to ultraviolet rays of the spectrum. Bradley also established an equine cemetery where horses each received a marble headstone. A constant innovator, Bradley introduced the fibre skullcap worn by jockeys and as a racetrack owner made improvements to the starting gates.

All of his horses were given a name that began with the Bradley "B". His stallion Black Toney, purchased from James R. Keene in 1912, became the farm's first important sire. In December of 1930, Bradley purchased the French mare La Troienne, who had been consigned by owner Marcel Boussac to the Newmarket, England Sales. La Troienne became one of the most influential mares to be imported into the U.S. in the 20th century.

Over the years, Bradley's horses were conditioned for racing by several trainers such as Willie Knapp and Edward Haughton, but William J. "Bill" Hurley and future U.S. Racing Hall of Fame trainer Herbert J. Thompson met with the most success.

Bill Hurley trained Kalitan, who won the 1917 Preakness Stakes, and Bagenbaggage, who won the 1926 Latonia and Louisiana Derbys and was second to Bradley's own Bubbling Over in the Kentucky Derby. Hurley won the 1935 Florida Derby, Coaching Club American Oaks and American Derby with the great filly and 1991 Racing Hall of Fame inductee Black Helen. Another of Bill Hurley's important Hall of Fame horses was Bimelech, who earned U.S. Champion 2-Yr-Old Colt and 3-Year-Old honors in 1939 and 1940 respectively, and just missed winning the U.S. Triple Crown when he finished second in the 1940 Kentucky Derby, then won both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Known as "Derby Dick", Herbert Thompson trained Bradley horses that won numerous important stakes race including four Kentucky Derbys, two of which were the first ever back-to-back wins by a trainer or by an owner. Thompson won one of the Derbys with Burgoo King in 1932, who also won that year's Preakness Stakes. The most important horse Thompson trained for Edward Bradley was Blue Larkspur. The colt won the 1929 Belmont Stakes and was voted United States Horse of the Year honors and in 1930, U.S. Champion Older Male Horse.

Edward Bradley's wins in the American Classic Races were as follows:

Kentucky Derby

Preakness Stakes

  • 1917 - Kalitan

Belmont Stakes

Edward Bradley raced horses at Arlington Park in Chicago as well as in New York, where Thoroughbred racing flourished at several race tracks near New York City and on Long Island. In addition to two wins in the prestigious Belmont Stakes, his horses won other important New York area races such as the:

For a time Edward Bradley served as president of the Thoroughbred Horse Association of the United States and in recognition of his substantial contribution to the prosperity of the State of Kentucky, he was honored with a Kentucky colonel title by the Governor.

Race track ownership

Already an owner of the Palmetto Club in New Orleans, Louisiana that serviced a betting clientele for local horse races, in 1926 Edward Bradley purchased the Fair Grounds Race Course. He spent a great deal of money to improve the facility but in 1932, after making a substantial investment in Joseph E. Widener's new Hialeah Park Race Track near Miami, Florida, Bradley leased the Fair Grounds Race Course to a group of Chicago businessmen and in 1934 sold it outright to Robert S. Eddy, Jr., Joseph Cattarinich and associates, owners of rival Jefferson Park Racetrack in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

The "Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap" is named in his memory and is raced annually in January at the Fair Grounds Race Course.


Edward Bradley and his wife Agnes had no children but showed a great deal of concern for those forced to live in orphanages. Annually in the fall, they held a racing day at Idle Hour Farm to raise money that was donated to various orphanages. Roman Catholics, they provided funding to their church as well as to various charitable causes such the Good Samaritan Medical Center and St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach. His wife died in 1926 and Bradley bequeathed their Palm Beach property and personal residence to the city on the condition the land be used as a public park. Honored in 2000 as one of its "Great Floridians" by the Florida Department of State, his Great Floridian commemorative plaque is located at E.R. Bradley's Saloon at 104 Clematis Street in West Palm Beach.

Edward R. Bradley died at Idle Hour Stock Farm on August 15, 1946 at age 86. He was buried next to his wife in Lexington's Calvary Cemetery. On November 7th, Idle Hour and its bloodstock was sold at auction. The farm was broken up into smaller parcels with one part sold to King Ranch and the core property later bought by the John W. Galbreath family, becoming part of his Darby Dan Farm.



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