Trainer Buff Bradley had planned for his streaking Breedersâ€™ Cup star Groupie Doll to spend the Thanksgiving weekend and a few tranquil weeks on the family farm near Frankfort, Ky. before gearing the current queen of Kentucky racing up for a 2013 racing schedule.
But those plans for a quiet holiday have changed, and in a big way.
Bradley and his father, owner-trainer Fred Bradley, will most likely spend part of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at New Yorkâ€™s Aqueduct.
Groupie Doll, a dominating winner of five straight stakes races against females, will most likely be in the starting gate on Saturday, Nov. 24 for the Grade I Cigar Mile and her first career run against males.
Groupie Dollâ€™s year appeared to be over when she easily dismissed nine rivals in her easy 4 Â½-length victory in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. The victory by the homebred daughter of Bowmanâ€™s Band was one of the most impressive performances of the two-day championship.
The win at seven furlongs improved her career record to 9-3-2 in 16 races with earnings of $1,587,850. She has not lost since the younger Bradley outfitted her with blinkers five starts back and has become a true monster at one-turn distances.
She appears to be at her best at seven furlongs and has won three in a row at that distance, a string capped by her Breedersâ€™ Cup triumph. She would appear to be an ideal candidate for a one-turn mile, which is the configuration for the distance at her home track at Churchill Downs and for next weekâ€™s race at Aqueduct.
The one-turn mile is my favorite distance in American Thoroughbred racing. It is a much different challenge than a mile run around two turns, because the long run down the backstretch â€“ essentially a half-mile run to the turn â€“ accents the need for both speed and stamina in a runner.
Outside post positions, sometimes a huge obstacle at two-turn miles, are of little consequence as horses have a long time to relax and gain position heading into the turn.
To excel at the one-turn mile, a horse must possess a sprinterâ€™s sharp mentality and the heart of a stayer.Â Groupie Doll and her closing kick are well-suited to the distance and the added furlong around one turn should be no problem for her.
In her rare runs around two turns, her signature late rush has been largely absent. But at one turn, the boys in the Big Apple had best look out.
Buff Bradley said the possible New York trip arose simply because Groupie Doll was doing so well following her Breedersâ€™ Cup romp at Santa Anita. And he said the celebration of the Kentucky-based heroes of Breedersâ€™ Cup 2012 on Sunday, Nov. 11 at Churchill Downs had something to do with it.
â€œWe kept her here an extra week to be part of that,â€ Bradley said.Â â€œWhen we took her over for the parade she was dragging them around.â€
If Groupie Doll should win the Cigar Mile and do so impressively, it could become a late factor in voting for the Eclipse Award for 2012 Horse of the Year. With his brilliant victory in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Mile, that honor has pretty much been ceded to Morton Finkâ€™s brilliant gelding Wise Dan. But a sharp triumph by Groupie Doll in a premier Grade I race like the Cigar Mile could turn the heads of voters with more than a month left on the 2012 calendar.
End Of Femalesâ€™ String?
If Wise Dan wins the solid gold Eclipse, as expected, it would end an unprecedented string of four consecutives female winners of that honor. The streak started with the brilliant Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and she was followed by back-to-back Horse of the Year honoree Zenyatta. Havre de Grace took the honor over a wide open field in 2011.
Itâ€™s a longshot mission, but not impossible. As dominant as Wise Dan has been in 2012, most of his success came at a mile on grass, which has rarely been a Horse of the Year profile in the U.S.
Heâ€™s still a clear frontrunner, but if Groupie Doll should add a romp over males â€“ a key component of the campaigns of those four consecutive female champions â€“ she will, at the very least, become a valid part of the discussion.
A Week Left
Just a week remains in the Churchill Downs Fall Meet and the closing week flurry of stakes races holds the potential for fireworks in the meetâ€™s biggest events.
The 138th running of the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare, run on the day after Thanksgiving and won last year by Wise Dan, could be headed by the Dale Romans-trained Shackleford, winner of the 2011 Preakness and 2012 Metropolitan Mile. Other potential stars in the Clark mix are rising 3-year-old star Neck â€˜n Neck, the stablemate to Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned who won Churchill Downsâ€™ Ack Ack and the Indiana Derby in his last two starts; Pool Play, upset winner of the 2011 Stephen Foster Handicap, Indiana Derby runner-up Bourbon Courage and 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy.
The Thanksgiving Day centerpiece will again be the $150,000-added Falls City Handicap for fillies and mares and the star of the day could be Brushed by a Star, winner of the Chilukki earlier in the meet. Her rivals could include Chilukki runner-up Joyful Victory and Afleeting Lady, a Romans-trained half-sister to Shackleford who narrowly missed winning the race a year ago.
Saturdayâ€™s racing will be the final â€œStars of Tomorrowâ€ card devoted exclusively to 2-year-olds. The Kentucky Jockey Club and its counterpart for fillies, the Golden Rod, will match young horses that could return next spring for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and the Kentucky Oaks.
The top three finishers from the Iroquois on Oct. 28 â€“ Uncaptured, Positively and Overanalyze â€“ are expected for the Golden Rod, along with Louisville-born football legend Paul Hornungâ€™s Titletown Five. The latter, a Tiznow colt trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas, was an impressive winner in his most recent start.
The meet wraps up with the River City Handicap on grass on Closing Day, Sunday, Nov. 25. Then it will be just over 150 days until Kentucky Derby 139.
Start the countdown, if you havenâ€™t already.
Photos by REED PALMER PHOTOGRAPHY | Churchill Downs