Groupie Doll's run toward Eclipse Award glory in 2012 was a clinic in brilliance, a string of lopsided blowouts that rendered any divisional debate irrelevant.
For all the joy that comes in crafting an exercise in dominance, the 12 months that followed showed why there is a different, possibly more pleasing level of satisfaction that comes from a mettle-testing title defense.
Elation and validation walked hand in hand for the connections of Groupie Doll in 2013, culminating with her earning a second consecutive Eclipse Award for champion female sprinter Saturday night.
Groupie Doll earned 192 of 249 possible first-place votes to make her the first horse of either gender to repeat as a sprint champion since Housebuster in 1990-91. Multiple Grade I winner Points Offthebench, who suffered a fatal breakdown in what was to be his final Breeders' Cup workout, was posthumously named champion sprint male.
After running roughshod over her competition with five convincing wins, including a trio of Grade I triumphs in 2012, Groupie Doll was given the first half of 2013 off when trainer and co-breeder Buff Bradley sensed she wasn't herself during training.
The now 6-year-old chestnut mare didn't return to the races until August, finishing third as the heavy favorite in the Grade III Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park. Though she would be beaten twice more on the year — including a fourth-place run against males in the Grade I Cigar Mile when she had to take up after Clearly Now clipped heels — she set a track record while winning the Grade II Presque Isle Masters in September and was at her determined best when she won the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint for a second straight season.
"When we won that the first year, we were extremely excited winning the Breeders' Cup and knew the Eclipse Award was pretty much ours," said Bradley, who bred Groupie Doll along with his father, Fred, and campaigned her in partnership until selling her to Mandy Pope for $3.1 million at the Keene-land November Breeding Stock Sale days after her latest Breeders' Cup win. "Coming back this year, I never lost any confidence in her. I knew we were doing the right thing (with the time off) and it worked out. That was pretty special to see her (win the Breeders' Cup) again and beat a tough bunch of fillies and mares."
Groupie Doll is slated to have one more start before being bred to Tapit this year, with the Grade III Hurricane Bertie at Gulfstream on Feb. 9 the likely spot for her career finale.
"If I still (owned) her I'd have probably run her this year," Bradley said. "She's as good as she's ever been. I feel that she's just something special that happened to us."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.