Groupie Doll, the 2012 champion female sprinter, will make her seasonal debut Aug. 10 in the Gardenia Stakes (gr. III) at Ellis Park, according to trainer Buff Bradley.
Bradley had initially said the 5-year-old daughter of Bowman's Band would make her first start in the Sept. 9 Presque Isle Masters Stakes (gr. II), which Groupie Doll won last year, although he had considered the grade I Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. Groupie Doll has not started since finishing second when racing against males last November in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) following her scintillating victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I).
After the mare posted a bullet work of :48 for four furlongs at Churchill Downs Aug. 2, Bradley said he needed to give her a race leading up to the Masters. He noted that the Gardenia was the first stakes victory for Groupie Doll when she defeated older horses in the 2011 edition.
"There are several reasons (for running in the Gardenia)," Bradley said. "One, she has been off nine months and I didn't really want her to have to run her 'A' race in the race at Saratoga (Ballerina). She's ready now and instead of sitting on her another month, it would be better for her and more beneficial for her to run a race. I'm not saying it's a prep race but it kind of is a steppingstone to where we want to be."
With a Masters Stakes penciled in after the Gardenia, Bradley said he also plans to run Groupie Doll in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland, a race she also won last year. "These three races fit really well, being a month apart," he said. "We went with what worked for us last year."
Both the Masters and TCA are run on synthetic surfaces.
Bradley said he also has sentimental reasons for wanting to run Groupie Doll at Ellis Park. He noted that he has a winner's circle photograph in his office of his grandfather and father, Fred, in the winner's circle following a 1938 race at the Henderson track when it was called Dade Park.
"Ellis Park really is my father's home track," Bradley said. "Winning the Gardenia meant a lot to him."
Groupie Doll, the winner of nine of 17 starts with six placings and earnings of $1,657,850, races for the Bradleys in partnership with Carl Hurst and Brent Burns.
Bradley said he hopes that having a champion running at Ellis Park will result in a business boost for the small track.
"I have been at Ellis Park every day they've race this year, except opening day, and every time I walk through the grandstand I'm asked about Groupie Doll. They know her here."