After a less than satisfying outcome in the Cigar Mile (gr. I) in November, owner Mandy Pope says she couldn't bear to see two-time female sprint champion Groupie Doll end her career that way.
As a result, the popular 6-year-old mare, racing in the name of Whisper Hill Farm, finds herself entered in the $200,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 9, her first start at Gulfstream Park since March 2102.
Purchased strictly as a broodmare prospect for $3.1 million a few days after she won her second Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 2, the daughter of Bowman's Band was given one more run for her fans in the Cigar Mile Nov. 30 at Aqueduct Racetrack. But the race didn't turn out well at all, with Groupie Doll checking on the inside and bumping at the quarter pole before making a belated rally to finish a well-beaten fourth.
"It was horrible and I hated to end her career like that. It was cold, not a fun day over all," Pope said. "I figured down here with the nice weather, people will be able to be outside and see her and enjoy her. Hopefully, it will be a grand way for her to have her last race."
Groupie Doll, to be be ridden by Rajiv Maragh, will be a low-priced favorite against six older fillies and mares to conclude her sterling career in the 6 1/2-furlong Hurricane Bertie. Groupie Doll drew the rail and will carry 123 pounds.
The race is the fourth on the Donn Handicap (gr. I) undercard Sunday with a 2:03 p.m. EST scheduled post.
"It's not about the money. Mandy really does care about her horses," said trainer Buff Bradley, who bred Groupie Doll in partnership with his father, Fred, and has continued to train her since the sale. "On paper, Groupie Doll looks like she should win, but there's a reason they put them all in the starting gate. We still need things to go well."
Bradley, who campaigned Groupie Doll with his father and longtime clients Carl Hurst and Brent Burns before selling her at auction, adds, "Although this is going to be her last start and we'll hate to see her go, we're really excited to see her run Sunday."
Groupie Doll heads into the final race with 11 wins from 22 starts and earnings of more than $2.5 million. She had four starts at Gulfstream during the winter and spring of 2011-12, winning once before blossoming later in the season to earn the first of her two Eclipse Awards.
The race sets up very well for Groupie Doll, who is 3-for-3 at 6 1/2 furlongs over her career. Wildcat Lily, Five Star Momma, and Jamaican Smoke should provide a quick tempo to complement her closing style, while Sugar Swirl Stakes (gr. III) winner Heart Stealer is likely to be the main threat.
Wildcat Lily, trained by Manny Azpurua, set the pace in the Prioress (gr. I) last summer at Saratoga Race Course before coming up a half-length short of victory. The Eddie Kenneally-trained Jamaican Smoke ran third in the Madison Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland last spring after setting a quick pace on the Polytrack. Five Star Momma, from the Jena Antonucci barn, is a multiple-stakes winner who is coming off a second-place finish in a Laurel stakes Dec. 28.
Heart Stealer has won both of her Gulfstream starts since being transferred to trainer Marty Wolfson, winning an entry-level allowance by 10 1/2 lengths before her late-closing triumph by a neck in the six-furlong Sugar Swirl Dec. 14.
Rontos Racing Stable's Wildcat Lily and Heart Stealer, owned by Peachtree Stable, each carry 121 pounds.
My Due Process and Distortion round out the field.
$200,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes (gr. III, Race 4, 2:03 p.m.), Filies & Mares 4 & Up, 6 1/2 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Groupie Doll (KY), R Maragh, 123, W B Bradley
2. Jamaican Smoke (KY), J Lezcano, 117, E Kenneally
3. My Due Process (KY), J Bravo, 117, C Vaccarezza
4. Distortion (KY), L Saez, 117, N P Zito
5. Five Star Momma (KY), A Jaen, 119, J M Antonucci
6. Heart Stealer (KY), J Castellano, 121, M D Wolfson
7. Wildcat Lily (FL), J L Alvarez, 121, M J Azpurua