You don't replace a horse like Grade I winner Brass Hat. That much was evident by the warm reception the now-retired 10-year-old gelding received as he was paraded before the Keeneland faithful in the paddock on Thursday.
While trainer Buff Bradley and his father, owner Fred Bradley, know the odds are long of having such a transcendent horse in the barn again, their homebred filly Groupie Doll is doing her best to pick up a piece of the mantle left behind by the stable's beloved veteran performer.
The daughter of Bowman's Band will try to build up what is already becoming a solid young résumé on Saturday when she faces 12 other 3-year-old fillies in the Grade II, $250,000 Raven Run Stakes going 7 furlongs on the main track at Keene-land.
She doesn't yet have the multiple graded stakes wins or the more than $2 million in earnings fellow homebred Brass Hat racked up during his seven years on the track for the Bradleys. However, Groupie Doll has shown enough in her five-race career to keep the father-son pair confident their silks will remain a winner's circle presence for the foreseeable future.
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Facing older females in her first try against graded stakes company, Groupie Doll handily won the Grade III, 1-mile Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park by three lengths on Aug. 13.
The chestnut filly has captured her three wins by a combined margin of 14¾ lengths. As good as she has been sprinting, the Gardenia is seen by the Bradleys as evidence she could be more effective at a mile and beyond.
"That was a real test going against all older fillies in that race," said Buff Bradley, who also co-bred and co-owns Groupie Doll. "Wanting to run her against straight 3-year-old fillies has been the thing I've been thinking about the most but ... I don't think she has distance limitations. We're feeling that she's going to want to stretch out a bit."
Unraced at 2, Groupie Doll still shows inexperience. During her runner-up effort in the Charles Town Oaks on Sept. 17, she uncharacteristically lagged behind in last before making a rally that fell three-quarters of a length short.
"I think the lights hitting her kind of put her back because we planned to be quite a bit closer that night," Buff Bradley said. "She's still running a little green. Even in the Gardenia ... I thought she was finished at the top of the lane. But (jockey) Greta (Kuntzweiler) kept riding her and once a hole opened up on the rail, she shot through that thing so quickly."
Last October, Keeneland was the scene of Brass Hat's final career win when he captured the Grade III Sycamore Stakes. On Saturday, the Bradleys hope the track helps in the launch of his heir apparent.
"I think it's special for both me and my father because we bred and raised Groupie Doll just like we did Brass Hat," Bradley said.