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Ladies' Morning at Churchill Downs: Champ Groupie Doll, Grade I Winner On Fire Baby Work
While only two races appear to remain in her racing career, trainer William “Buff” Bradley believes champion Groupie Doll is poised to end her racing days in spectacular style.
The 5-year-old homebred daughter of Bowman’s Band tuned up for a run in next Saturday’s Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (Grade II) at Keeneland with a four-furlong work in :48.20 Saturday at Churchill Downs.
The Keeneland race will be a final prep for Groupie Doll’s bid for a second consecutive victory in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI) at seven furlongs on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
Exercise rider Jada Schlenk was up as the reigning Eclipse Award Filly and Mare Sprint champion breezed over a fast track in fractional times of :13, :25 and :36.60 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.20.
The work ranked as the 11th-fastest of 66 at the distance on a busy morning at Churchill Downs.
"The work was very good,” Bradley said. “She galloped out good and strong all the way, and Jada said that she’s ready.”
The Keeneland race will be only the third start of the year for Groupie Doll, who is owned by a partnership that includes the trainer and his 82-year-old father, Fred Bradley, and William Hurst and Brent Burns. She spent the early part of the year on the Bradley family farm near Frankfort, Ky. after she seemed lethargic in her training early in the year in Florida.
Groupie Doll returned to competition with a third-place run in the Gardenia (GIII) at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., a race she won as a 3-year-old in 2011, but returned to form earlier this month with a second consecutive victory in the Presque Isle Masters (GII) at Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Downs. She established a record of 1:08.36 for six furlongs with a comfortable 1 ½-length victory over the track’s synthetic Tapeta surface.
As good as Groupie Doll has been over her past three seasons, Bradley sees daily evidence that his star is still developing and maturing.
“I think I see a lot more in her – maybe not in speed out here, but her mind,” he said. “Watching her walk around the shedrow, she comes out of the stall and she’s on it. She used to walk out of the stall and just wander down the shedrow. No big deal, she’s just another horse.
"Now she’s kind of like, ‘Hey, I’m the queen.’ She goes out with a presence. It’s good for me to see her mentally develop that part of it.”
The homebred mare and the best horse of Bradley’s career will not return to the family farm when this year ends. She will be a headline attraction in Keeneland’s November Breeding Stock Sale and will pass through the auction ring on the Tuesday after her Breeders’ Cup run.
Bradley acknowledged that it will be difficult to see Groupie Doll head to a new home. But the decision is necessary for the future of the family farm and all associated with it.
“It doesn’t mean that I’ll never think of her – I’ll think of her every day of my life when she sells,” Bradley said. “I’ll guarantee that I’ll go out there teary-eyed, and I’ll be sad and it’s gonna hurt, but it’s the only thing that we can do.”
Since the news of Groupie Doll’s impending appearance in the auction ring broke, Bradley has received emails from fans who question how the family could possibly part with a star that has done so much for their operation.
Another Bradley star – Grade I-winning gelding Brass Hat – was retired to the farm after he completed his career with 10 wins in 40 races and earnings of $2,173,561. But Bradley said he and his father would have faced the same decision with Brass Hat if he had the prospect of a career as a stallion. And they would have reached the same conclusion in Brass Hat’s case.
“They don’t know the whole story,” Bradley said of the critics. “They don’t know what I have to go through at the farm and with my family. I have to take care of them first. Groupie Doll is going to be taking care of the rest of my horses, basically.”
And now, Groupie Doll will attempt to take care of business next week at Keeneland and five weeks later in the Breeders’ Cup. She will take a career record of 10-4-3 in 19 races and earnings of $1,908,850 with her when she boards a van next Saturday for the hour-long ride to Keeneland and the penultimate start of her career in the Thoroughbred Club of America.
ON FIRE BABY READY FOR SPINSTER BID AFTER CHURCHILL WORK – Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby, winner of Oaklawn’s Apple Blossom (GI), tuned up for a bid in next week’s $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster (GI) with a five-furlong work over her home track at Churchill Downs.
The Gary Hartlage-trained 4-year-old daughter of Smoke Glacken had regular rider Joe Johnson in the saddle and completed the work in 1:01.40. The work ranked ninth among 30 at the distance, with internal fractions of :25.20 and :37.60 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.40.
“We sharpened her up a little bit today,” Hartlage said. “She went five-eighths instead of the seven-eighths I’ve been working her. She’s been training a little bit harder now than she has into her other races. She’s acting like she’s really on top of her game. It’s hard for Joe to hold her in her morning gallops, so we just put five-eighths in her today and let her gallop out."
Hartlage said the goal was to put “a little edge” on the gray filly in the final major training move prior to the 1 1/8-mile Spinster, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
“I wanted to see her come down the lane and she if she’d get down on her belly, and she did,” he said. “She lowered her head and she came runnin’, and that’s everything we wanted. Now she’s got to show up over there.”
On Fire Baby, fourth to two-time champion Royal Delta in her most recent outing in the Personal Ensign (GI) at Saratoga, will make only her second career start over a synthetic surface in the Spinster. She ran fifth in Keeneland’s Alcibiades (GI) at two, but Hartlage considers that be a deceptively good race. The Alcibiades followed a win in her debut at Ellis Park, her first race at a two-turn distance and over the new surface, and she broke from the outside post in a field of 14 that day.
“That was a big, big race for her,” Hartlage said, “and she came out of that race super good.”
She followed that Polytrack race with wins in Churchill Downs’ Pocahontas (GII) and Golden Rod (GII), but she was uneven in four starts at three – including a fifth-place run behind Believe You Can in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) and went to the sidelines for nearly a year following a dull fourth-place run in the Acorn (GI) at Belmont Park.
On Fire Baby opened her 2013 campaign with her victory in the Apple Blossom, then suffered a narrow loss to Authenticity in the La Troienne (GII) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day prior to her Saratoga setback. Her efforts since that disappointing run in her training at Churchill Downs have Hartlage looking forward to next week’s journey to Lexington.
“She was super good this year at Oaklawn, and right now I think she’s back to that,” Hartlage said. “She would really fool me if she doesn’t run real good.”
One Fire Baby has a career record of 5-1-1 in 11 races with earnings of $750,308. A victory in the Spinster by On Fire Baby could earn Cauley’s filly a trip to Southern California for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but Hartlage said that a Breeders’ Cup run has not been a year-long goal for his filly.
“I think we probably would (go) if she won,” he said. “If we do, we do. The Breeders’ Cup is not a big deal to me. It would all depend on her, and how she comes out of the race.”
BARN TALK: Harry T. Rosenblum’s Gentlemen’s Bet, winner of the Iowa Sprint Handicap, prepped for a run in next week’s Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix (GII) at Keeneland with a half-mile work in :50.40. The Ron Moquett-trained 4-year-old son of Half Ours galloped out five furlongs in 1:04.40. … Magdalena Stable’s Hollywood Starlet (GI) winner Pure Fun, working toward a comeback in the Indiana Oaks (GIII) for trainer Kenny McPeek, breezed four furlongs with stablemate Kimberly Jean in 1:00.60. Internal fractions for the breeze were :24.80, :36.20 and she galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.40. … Bourbon Courage, winner of the 2012 Super Derby (GII) and third to Shackleford in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), breezed a half-mile in :50. It was his third work in as many weeks for trainer Kellyn Gorder’s star, who has not raced since a third-place finish to Take Charge Indy in Churchill Downs’ Alysheba (GII). … A. Stevens Miles Jr.’s Neck ‘n Neck, winner of the 2012 Indiana Derby (GII) and Ack Ack Handicap (GIII), breezed five furlongs in 1:01.40 under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. The 4-year-old son of Flower Alley, who has not run for trainer Ian Wilkes since he suffered an injury while training for last fall’s Clark Handicap, recorded internal fractions of :12.40 and :37.40 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.40.