The date was August 13, 2011. As the only 3-year-old in a field of 12 fillies and mares, a lightly raced daughter of Bowman’s Band was let go at odds of 7-1 in the signature race at Ellis Park, despite impressively winning a maiden and an allowance in her previous two starts. As the starting gates sprang open for the Grade 3 Gardenia, Groupie Doll broke awkwardly. That would be her only misstep. Stalking the early pace in the one-mile affair, she made a now familiar strong move on the turn and quickly opened up on the field, eventually rolling to three-length victory in her stakes debut.
Much like the quick burst she had made to win that Gardenia, Groupie Doll had surged from finishing eighth in her grassy career debut, to becoming a graded stakes winner in a span of just over two months. Being a homebred for Fred and Buff Bradley, Groupie Doll had begun her road to replacing the large void left in the stable by the recent retirement of the ultra popular warrior, Brass Hat. For Groupie Doll, there has been plenty of water under the bridge since that successful stakes debut of two years ago, and almost all of it has been good.
While many had forgotten that Groupie Doll had begun her stakes career at the small track in western Kentucky, or perhaps had never known, everyone is familiar with what she accomplished last year. After beginning her four-year-old campaign with three solid, but ultimately losing performances in Florida, the Buff Bradley trainee rattled off five consecutive dominant performances against the best sprinting female sprinters in the nation, culminating with a popular romp in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Her excellent season concluded with a gallant effort when beaten a nose in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile. The loss may have ended her impressive winning streak, but in stretching out against top males, and running as bravely as she did, it only offered further proof of her class. There could be no other choice to be named 2012 Female Sprint Champion other than Groupie Doll.
Evaluated to be not quite herself over the winter, Buff Bradley turned the now five-year-old out and she enjoyed some much deserved R&R with a new pal, Brass Hat. With her mind and spirit refreshed, Groupie Doll is now set to make her 2013 seasonal debut. In a somewhat poetic move, Bradley has his star returning in the same Gardenia Stakes where she first became a stakes winner.
With a string of solid works under her championship belt, the hope is that she can immediately return to her winning ways. The specifics of the race show that Groupie Doll will break from post 2 in a full field of a dozen older fillies and mares on Saturday, but it really is all about Groupie Doll. Will she be like her old self, or has the spark to run at the highest level been lost? Surely even 80% of her best from last year, will be enough to see her enter the Gardenia winner’s circle once again.
On a personal note, the Gardenia of two years ago is when I officially started being a very big fan of Groupie Doll, and she has seldom let me down since. I find it very fitting that this race at Ellis Park is where she will make her long awaited return to the races, as it was where, in many ways, it all began for her. I would like nothing better than to see it be a triumphant return.