This time, it really will be goodbye.
After putting himself through emotional boot camp the three previous occasions trainer Buff Bradley thought he was experiencing a "last" moment with his two-time Eclipse Award champion Groupie Doll, Sunday's Grade III, $200,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes at Gulfstream Park is indeed set to be her final sendoff.
Bradley and his father, Fred, raised Groupie Doll since she hit the ground on their Frankfort-based farm on April 14, 2008. And along with partners Carl Hurst and Brent Burns, they campaigned the chestnut darling as she developed into one of the best female sprinters of recent times.
For the financial well-being of all involved, Bradley and Co. sold Groupie Doll to Mandy Pope for $3.1 million at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale days after her second straight victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Pope's largesse went well beyond her bankroll though as she bestowed Bradley and his team precious extra time with their stable star by returning Groupie Doll to training before she begins her broodmare career this year.
The Grade I Cigar Mile last November was supposed to be a one-and-done start for Groupie Doll in Pope's colors. But after she finished a troubled fourth in which a horse in front of her clipped heels, Pope decided the 6-year-old mare deserved another chance at a proper result — hence her latest final career start in the seven-horse field for the 61/2-furlong Hurricane Bertie.
"Someone said, 'How does it feel that this is the last time you've worked her' and I said this is the third time of the last time I've worked her," Buff Bradley said days after sending Groupie Doll out for a 4-furlong move in 48.27 seconds last Sunday. "The last time I worked her was before Breeders' Cup and then the last time I worked her was before the Cigar Mile and now the last time I've worked her is before this race. So at least we've had some extra time with her and it's been fun.
"It's still hard (to let her go) but I think it's much easier because we were able to train her for Mandy and it's been really good working with her and seeing how much she loves her. And I know she's going to take great care of her."
Groupie Doll's breath-snatching turn of foot is most effective when she gets clear on the outside. To that end, drawing the rail for Sunday's test isn't ideal although her class edge over her challengers should make that situation a non-factor.
Watching the four-time Grade I winner cross the wire first one last time is certainly the goal Sunday, but the storybook nature of Groupie Doll's tale in no way hinges on this race outcome. As the first-ever champion to be bred and owned by the Bradley clan, which has invested their lives in the industry, Groupie Doll is the gift that will never stop giving them reason for gratitude.
"Mandy and I both know on paper Groupie Doll looks like the best Sunday, but there is a reason why they run these races," Bradley said. "We're hoping to see her go out a winner. She's just been a really good ride for everybody, we've all got to experience it.
"I've told them we need to just enjoy it, there is nothing to be nervous about. She has brought us two championships and we've enjoyed the ride the whole way."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.