G1 winner Street Band aims to kickstart season in Groupie Doll

G1 winner Street Band aims to kickstart season in Groupie Doll
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Street Band was one of the country’s top 3-year-old fillies last year. Trainer Larry Jones, also her co-owner and co-breeder, is still trying to see how that translates into her stature as a 4-year-old.

Just matching last year is a lofty standard, with Street Band earning more than $1 million in 2019, including victories in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, Indiana Oaks (G3) and Parx’s Cotillion (G1), where her 2 1/4-length triumph remains the sensational filly Guarana’s only defeat.

Street Band should get some relief in the ferocity of competition when she runs in Sunday’s $100,000 Groupie Doll Stakes at Ellis Park, one of five stakes on the Ellis Park Derby card. Street Band is 0 for 3 in 2020, all against top-flight company: a very close third in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3), a fading fourth in the Azeri Stakes (G2) and a rallying fourth in the Apple Blossom (G1) in April in her last start.

“I think she had reached her peak early fall last year, late summer,” Jones said. “She was really doing well. She’s doing just as well now, but she just has not looked like (she’s) doing better. She looks like maybe she matured early, and we have not been as busy with her, and some of it due to the COVID."

Street Band drew post 12 as the Groupie Doll attracted 15 fillies and mares, with the three "also-eligibles" requiring defections in order to make the capacity field of 12. The Groupie Doll goes off as race 9 on the 10-race card capped by the Ellis Park Derby. The betting card is dominated by full fields, with TVG providing live on-site coverage.

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Jones is hoping the Groupie Doll is a steppingstone to Keeneland's Spinster (G1). With the Breeders’ Cup also at Keeneland this year, the major objective is getting Street Band back into the $2 million Distaff, a race in which she was eighth last year.

“We’ve only had three starts," Jones said of 2020. “The Houston Ladies Classic, she had a wide trip, and I thought that was a really good race for her. In the Azeri, the track was really sloppy and I didn’t think she ran her best race by any means. (Kentucky Oaks winner) Serengeti Empress got on an easy lead and just kept going. She’s running good. I don’t know if she’s any better at 4 than she was at 3.”

Jones is known for being forthright anyway. But he also can speak candidly about Street Band as a co-owner with wife Cindy, Ray Francis of Henderson, Ky., and with minority interests owned by Medallion Racing and MyRaceHorse Stable. 

“I have as much on the line as they do,” Jones said. “So my partners have been very agreeable to do what we’re doing. So it’s worked out well.

"The Groupie Doll is the premier race here,” the long-time Henderson resident continued. “Not knowing two months ago how the COVID was going to be doing, we just decided to stay home, try not to do a lot of outside traveling and maybe getting ourselves and our barn in jeopardy of getting quarantined. This is always a race we have on our radar for our fillies. I’ve run some Grade 1 winners in this race. It’s a good race, and I love racing at Ellis Park on their track.”

Indeed, after finishing second in the 2012 Groupie Doll (then known as the Gardenia), Jones sent Joyous Victory to California, where she was second in the Zenyatta (G1) before the next spring returning for victory in the Santa Margarita (G1). Groupie Doll herself finished third in the 2013 Gardenia before winning her second straight Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and female sprint championship. (Groupie Doll also won the 2011 Gardenia as a 3-year-old).

Jockey Sophie Doyle, who has ridden Street Band for the past 13 of her 16 career starts, comes in from Iowa’s Prairie Meadows to ride. She says she sees the signs that Street Band at 4 is the same as Street Band at 3. One thing that is different this year is that Doyle switched circuits and hasn’t been able to be on the filly in most of her timed workouts.

“She’s always been performing and trying hard,” Doyle said of the Street Band, the jockey’s first Grade 1 winner. “… Street Band is just incredible. I’ve been so fortunate and blessed to come across a filly like her. We’ve been together from the very beginning. The past two years, it’s been a development with each race we’ve gone into. I think it’s been an important key for both of us that we’ve been able to progress together so well. She’s highlighted my career in so many ways.”

Jones has another Groupie Doll contender in Istan Council, who last year defeated older horses by 10 3/4 lengths to win an Ellis Park allowance race. 

“She really does well on this track,” Jones said. “And I love the fact that going a mile here is not a two-turn race. It’s maybe a turn and three-quarters. We know she wants to go a little bit longer than the six furlongs we’ve been able to find to keep her at the one-turn. We haven’t been able to find a true one-turn mile race for her. But she’s coming into this race very well.”

Both fillies come into the race without their final scheduled workout, with Jones calling them off Tuesday because of the muddy track.

“We’ll have to go into the race just off of gallops,” he said in a text update. “Uncharted waters for both of them.”

In addition to the Groupie Doll and $200,000 Ellis Park Derby, the other stakes Sunday are the $100,000 Juvenile,$100,000 Debutante and the $100,000 Audubon Oaks.

2020 Groupie Doll (LS)

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