The surroundings are a good bit different than those at her former home at Churchill Downs, but reigning Eclipse Award Filly & Mare Sprint champion Groupie Doll has resumed her training in New York, and trainer William “Buff” Bradley and other familiar faces are close by.
New owner Mandy Pope announced Friday that Groupie Doll, a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (Grade I), would continue her racing career and that her next target would be a run against males in the Cigar Mile (GI) at Aqueduct on Nov. 30.
Groupie Doll was purchased by Pope last Wednesday for $3.1 million at Keeneland’s November breeding stock sale and it was widely assumed then that she would join her new owner’s ever-growing collection of star broodmares at her Whisper Hill Farm. That group is currently headed by 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, a $10 million purchase by Pope in the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November sale.
A key part of Friday’s announcement on the ongoing racing career of Groupie Doll was that Bradley, the co-breeder, former co-owner and trainer who also helped raise the daughter of Bowman’s Band at his family’s farm near Frankfort, Ky., would continue to train the champion.
Bradley has gone to Belmont Park for that task, and has taken regular exercise rider Jada Schlenk and assistant trainer Matt Hebert, who also serves as Groupie Doll’s groom, with him.
“We’re pretty excited, and very pleased that Mandy wanted us to continue on with her,” Bradley said by telephone from New York.
Bradley said the conversations that led to Pope’s decision to keep Groupie Doll in training started soon after the gavel came down at Keeneland, just four days after her second Breeders’ Cup triumph.
“I talked to her about Groupie Doll and how she was doing,” Bradley said. “It was kind of hard for me to tell at that point because I hadn’t done anything but walk her since we came back from the Breeders’ Cup, but her legs felt great and I knew she was feeling well, so I told her that continuing to race her could be a thought.”
In making that suggestion during his first meeting with Pope, Bradley put in a plug for his team to continue to be involved should Groupie Doll’s racing career be extended.
"I told her that I’d love to train her,” he said. “I’d been with her from day one. And I told her that, if it was possible, we would love to take her to New York for her.
“She indicated to me at that time that if Groupie Doll was going to remain in training, that I would be the trainer-of-record. So I felt pretty good after that day. She was very nice and has made me feel very much a part of the team.”
Following her win in last year’s renewal of that Breeders’ Cup race, Groupie Doll ended her championship campaign in the Cigar Mile, where she lost by a nose to Repole Stable’s Stay Thirsty in her first career run against males.
In the press release announcing the new plans for Groupie Doll, Pope indicated there could be more races beyond the Cigar Mile. But Bradley said his conversation with the 5-year-old mare’s new owner has not gone beyond Nov. 30.
So Bradley will be focused on the progress of Groupie Doll in New York in the coming days as she continues a campaign as a 5-year-old that, so far, includes only four races. But he’ll be doing so while keeping an eye on what’s happening with his stable at Churchill Downs and, of course, on the farm owned by his father, Fred Bradley, and the family.
“I’ll fly back home during the next three weeks, just to check on things there,” Bradley said. “I told her (Pope) that I’d be happy to do whatever she wanted me to do with Groupie Doll and take her wherever she wanted me to take her. This mare’s been very good to me, and I just appreciate the opportunity she’s given me to continue to go along with her.”
ALMOST FAMOUS VALIDATES BYRNE’S FAITH, TRAINER COULD HAVE PAIR FOR KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB – A couple of weeks can make an enormous difference in the life and career of a young horse, and Chuck and Maribeth Sandford’s Almost Famous is vivid illustration of that fact.
Just two weeks ago, trainer Pat Byrne was at a complete loss to explain a dull fourth-place run by the son of Unbridled’s Song in the $60,000-added Street Sense, a one-mile overnight stakes for 2-year-olds that was the co-featured event on the “Stars of Tomorrow I” program on the opening day of the Churchill Downs Fall Meet.
A $500,000 purchase by the Sanfords at the Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old sale in March, Almost Famous had dazzled in his in September debut at Churchill Downs. Coastline, the runner-up that day, soundly whipped Byrne’s colt in their rematch.
After hours of pondering, Byrne concluded that he had “babied” the colt in the weeks leading up to the Street Sense and decided to tighten the screws on Almost Famous. He gave him one day of rest, outfitted the colt with blinkers for his gallops and worked him out of the starting gate with those blinkers in a sharp time of :35.40 on Nov. 2.
Byrne’s tactics were validated Saturday when Almost Famous returned on just two weeks rest and rolled to an easy front-running victory over a promising group of young rivals in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race, the colt’s first test at a two-turn distance. The margin under jockey Corey Lanerie was six lengths in a winning time of 1:44.98 over a fast surface.
“He came out of the race super good and he ate-up quick last night,” Byrne said. “It was easy for him. There’s no doubt he’s got a lot of talent.”
The official Equibase chart noted that Almost Famous “hopped” at the start from his rail post. But he quickly gathered himself under Lanerie and galloped to the lead. At that point, the race was essentially over and he drew off easily in the stretch.
“I really didn’t want him on the lead, but he just kind of out-galloped the others to the lead,” Byrne said. “My instructions to Corey were that we’d like to see him win, but we’d like to see him come from off the pace. But he broke, Corey had a split-second decision and the horse kind of took himself to the lead. He’s got a big stride on him and he just out-galloped them to the first turn, and after that he just kind of dragged Corey around there.”
The next race for Almost Famous could be the $175,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), the 1 1/16-mile co-feature of the “Stars of Tomorrow II” program on Nov. 30, the Fall Meet’s closing day. But he is one of two horses owned by the Sandfords and trained by Byrne that could be in the starting gate that day. Their Chas’s Legacy, a 2-year-old gelded son of Bernardini, scored his first win in three races at odds of 14-1 when he defeated a well-regarded group of maidens at 1 1/16 miles on Thursday, Nov. 7.
“We’ve got two horses now and I don’t know if we’ll run both in the Jockey Club, but I know we’ll run one,” Byrne said. “We’ll talk with the Sandfords about that possibility. The important thing is that both horses came out of their races great.”
With Saturday’s impressive second victory in three starts, the career bankroll of Almost Famous rose to $56,479.
“We got both of these started now,” Byrne said. “They’re both nominated to the Jockey Club. I’ve got no interest in going to New York with either for the Remsen (GII). There’s plenty of races without going all over the countryside.”
BARN TALK – Bourbon Lane Stable’s Bourbon Courage, who is being pointed toward the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), breezed five furlongs Sunday in 1:00.40 over a fast track at Churchill Downs. The Kellyn Gorder-trained son of Lion Heart finished third behind classic winner Shackleford and 2012 Florida Derby (GI) winner Take Charge Indy in last year’s Clark. … Arkansas Derby (GI) and 2012 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) runner-up Frac Daddy fired a “bullet” workout over Keeneland’s Polytrack course on Saturday in preparation for run in next Saturday’s Commonwealth Turf (GIII). The Ken McPeek-trained 3-year-old breezed five furlongs in :59, the fastest of 26 works at the distance. … Jefferson Cup (GIII) winner General Election, also a candidate for the Commonwealth Turf, breezed four furlongs at Keeneland on Saturday in :48.60, a move that ranked 12th of 44 at the distance.
WORK TAB (Track: FAST) – Juddmonte Farm’s Kalamos, a French import who recently won his U.S. debut over the Keeneland turf for trainer Bill Mott, breezed four furlongs in 1:01.80. The 4-year-old Empire Maker homebred is nominated to the Nov. 23 River City Handicap (GII).