Keeneland: Owners enjoying last races with Groupie Doll

Jockey Rajiv Maragh doused Groupie Doll with water after the pair was victorious in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last year at Santa Anita Park.
Jockey Rajiv Maragh doused Groupie Doll with water after the pair was victorious in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last year at Santa Anita Park. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The topic is difficult enough for trainer Buff Bradley to discuss. And that strain is nothing compared to what went into the decision behind it.

Any time a game-changing horse leaves a trainer's shedrow, emotions figure to run the gauntlet. When that horse is one you and your father bred and then developed into your farm's first champion, words alone don't begin to capture the complexities.

A month after Bradley's homebred champion Groupie Doll makes her expected start in Saturday's Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland, she is slated to go through the auction ring at Keeneland's November Breeding Stock sale.

Parting with the daughter of Bowman's Band will help ensure the Bradleys and their partners can continue in the Thoroughbred industry. As sound a business decision it is, saying goodbye to family is rarely without its toll.

Ever since entries for the November sale were announced, Bradley has fielded his share of feedback wondering how he and his father, Fred, could possibly sell the mare they've raised since birth. With a Frankfort-based operation to run, family to tend to and the market at its strongest in years, Bradley and Co. had to do what was going to be in everyone's best long-term interest.

"It was very difficult and we talked about a lot of scenarios. We just didn't come to this overnight," said Bradley, who owns Groupie Doll along with his father and partners Brent Burns and Carl Hurst. "We talked about it and about what would be the best to do to stay active in the Thoroughbred business.

"The thing with Groupie Doll is, you'd have to breed to a high-end stallion, obviously. The insurance on a horse of her value gets to be extremely high and ... there would be a lot more going into it than our normal small operation. If I thought it was financially affordable, I'd race her next year as long as she stayed sound. But even at the barn, we don't really talk about it too much, her selling."

Before the reality of that matter sets in, there are distractions of the racing kind for Bradley to focus on.

Groupie Doll goes into the 6-furlong Thoroughbred Club of America as the defending race winner and carrying some of the old mojo that spearheaded her championship run of a year ago. After running third in the Grade III Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park on Aug. 10 in what was her first start since last November, the 5-year-old ran down fellow TCA entrant Purely Hot in deep stretch to win the Grade II Presque Isle Masters in a track-record 1:14.88 for 61/2 furlongs.

Physically, the Groupie Doll that won three Grade I races in 2012, including the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, appeared to come back with even more tools at her disposal this year.

What has buoyed Bradley's spirits as Groupie Doll readies for her Breeders' Cup title defense — and final start in Bradley's care — is her regaining her mental form.

"That race (at Ellis) wasn't a bad race at all the way she ran," Bradley said. "I think we knew then mentally she was just getting right, and right now she has matured so mentally. ... She has her game face on.

"I don't like to say I'm ever looking past a race but I'm looking forward to the Breeders' Cup. The way she is right now I'm ready to run her. I know this next race is something we're using to get there. But I feel our mare is just on top of her game now."

The TCA is one of five graded stakes on Keeneland's Saturday card, headlined by reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan taking on nine others in the Grade I, $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile.

Grade I winner Dayatthespa is the 9-5 morning-line choice in the Grade I First Lady Stakes while an overflow field of 16 were entered for the Grade I Dixiana Breeders' Futurity.

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