Groupie Doll the gift that keeps giving for Mandy Pope

Special to the Herald-Leader

Mandy Pope already has champion Groupie Doll to thank for giving the owner of Whisper Hill Farm her first graded stakes win as an owner. If graded stakes triumph No. 2 comes this Saturday for Pope’s operation, it too will have been spurred on by her star mare’s greatness.

Pope and trainer Buff Bradley will attempt to win the race named for the mare who brought them each to personal heights as they send out Crown D’Oro in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Groupie Doll Stakes at Ellis Park.

The one-mile test is named for the two-time Eclipse Award champion and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint heroine who was bred, trained and co-owned by Bradley throughout her career and purchased by Pope for $3.1 million at the 2013 Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale.

“We’re very excited about it,” Pope, speaking by phone, said of trying win the race named after her horse. “We thought it would be great if we could go in it. But of course you want to have a shot of winning it; we didn’t want to just run for the sake of running in it. Buff said the filly is doing very well and he wants to go. It would be a wonderful race for both myself and Buff to win.”

After purchasing champion Groupie Doll just days after the daughter of Bowman’s Band had earned her second straight Breeders’ Cup victory, Pope made the decision to send the chestnut mare back to Bradley for two more starts before her broodmare career would commence.

She finished a close fourth after nearly being dropped during Aqueduct’s Grade I Cigar Mile against males, a race she lost by a nose the year before. That was not the note Pope wanted her new champion to go out on.

“Mandy said, ‘I really want to run her one more time. I want her to go out a winner,’” Bradley recalled.

That one more start turned out to be a seven-length victory in Gulfstream Park’s Grade III Hurricane Bertie in February 2014, Pope’s first graded-stakes triumph as an owner. Sublime as the final result was, there were anxious moments that a walk-off victory was not to be.

“All I heard that day was that the rail was dead and you had to have some speed,” Bradley said. “We drew the 1 hole, and she broke horrible, way back. I remember looking over at Mandy, and her jaw was dropped. I felt the same way. I thought, ‘I guess she just doesn’t want to run any more.’ It took her to the turn to catch up to the pack. Coming out of the turn, I’m thinking, ‘My gosh, she’s going to win by open lengths.’… I commend Mandy for being able to go on and retire her. Because I think if I’d owned her, I’d been looking for another championship… I felt real pleasure in winning that race for her. She had paid all this money for my mare, and I wanted her to be rewarded in her silks.”

Today Groupie Doll is at Lexington’s Timber Town Stables farm. She has a yearling son by Tapit, a filly this year by Tapit and is back in foal and carrying another son of Tapit.

“Groupie is wonderful. She still has a great big fan club,” Pope said. “Groupie’s foal last year, we had some problems with, they actually had to take her foal right away to Rood & Riddle (equine hospital). But he’s doing great now. He’s a yearling and I have him down here with me at Whisper Hill Farm (in Citra, Fla.). We’re going to keep him and run him. She has a Tapit filly this year and everything went perfectly. She got to keep this filly and raise her, and she’s been a wonderful mama.”

Bradley has had Crown D’ Oro for three races, in the last two starts winning an entry-level allowance and finishing third in an allowance race that produced four horses for the Groupie Doll.

“This is a tough race, very competitive,” Bradley said. “But if she gets away in good order, she ought to be close and be a factor in the race early. If she is, her heart gets big and she should finish strong.”