Two-time champion Groupie Doll provided a satisfying conclusion to her stellar career with an eye-catching last-to-first romp in the $200,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) Feb. 9 at Gulfstream Park.
Slow to find stride from her rail post for her longtime rider jockey Rajiv Maragh, 2-5 favorite Groupie Doll trailed the seven-horse field up the backstretch. But Maragh never panicked, knowing he was on the best horse, and brought Groupie Doll five wide around her opponents to take control in upper stretch.
The daughter of Bowman's Band out of the Silver Deputy mare Deputy Doll drew off to win by seven lengths in a time of 1:14.68. Maragh gave a little fist pump as they crossed the wire. The clocking was just a tick off the track mark of 1:14.44 established by Forest Danger on Feb. 14, 2005.
Six-year-old Groupie Doll, the Eclipse Award champion as North America's outstanding female sprinter in 2012 and 2013, heads to the breeding farm after compiling a career mark of 12-4-4 in 23 races while earning $2,648,850.
Purchased by Mandy Pope for $3.1 million at the 2013 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, Groupie Doll made a pair of starts for Pope's Whisper Hill Farm. She remained in training with Buff Bradley, who bred the solid chestnut mare in partnership with his father, Fred. She previously raced for the Bradleys along with partners Carl Hurst and Brent Burns.
"I'm in tears...very excited," Pope said afterward. "I'm so happy for everyone, the fans, Buff. It's just so wonderful. I was so worried when she was so far behind, but they were telling me, 'Don't worry about it.' It was just wonderful and amazing."
Among Groupie Doll's major victories were the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) in both of her championship seasons. She also captured the 2012 Vinery Madison and Humana Distaff stakes (both gr. I), the 2012 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II), and the Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes (gr. II) in both 2012 and 2013.
Groupie Doll was originally scheduled to end her career facing males in the Cigar Mile (gr. I) Nov. 30 at Aqueduct Racetrack. But after a troubled fourth-place effort, Pope targeted the Hurricane Bertie for the champion's racing exit. Pope has booked Groupie Doll to be bred to Tapit following the Hurricane Bertie.
"This was our plan and it would be nice to stick to it," Pope said when asked about the possibility of extending Groupie Doll's racing career.
Jamaican Smoke, a grade I-placed mare trained by Eddie Kenneally, went to the lead in the 6 1/2-furlong 'Bertie' while pressed by Five Star Momma with Wildcat Lily and Distortion closely tracking the leaders. Groupie Doll settled at the back, about seven or eight lengths behind the leaders in the early stages.
"Sometimes she breaks a little flat-footed," Maragh said after the race. "It worked out in our favor when she broke a little slow because it gave me an opportunity to get outside and get to the clear. One thing I didn't want to do being on the inside is be pinned in and not be able to make my move when I wanted to."
Jamaican Smoke posted an opening quarter mile in :22.27 and the half in :45.16 while just a head in front of Five Star Momma. With Wildcat Lily and Distortion also drawing closer on the outside, Groupie Doll wound up her charge while widest of all, challenging the leaders leaving the quarter pole and soon taking command. She led by about six lengths while completing six furlongs in 1:08.65 and glided home effortlessly for a happy Maragh.
"I mean, she was flying down the lane; she was going to win easy," the jockey said. "I actually geared her down the last sixteenth because it was unnecessary to go any faster. She was going to win anyway.
"I'm just so happy that she goes out in this kind of style. This is really what she's capable of and she's doing so great. The last race in the Cigar Mile didn't work out in our favor with some things, but she's that quality and she can beat anybody. I'm just so happy that she showed it today. It was a great performance."
Carrying top weight of 123 pounds, Groupie Doll paid $2.80, $2.40, and $2.10. Five Star Momma, with Abdiel Jaen aboard, earned the place spot, returning $9.40 and $6.20 while completing a $21.80 exacta. She was three lengths in front of Wildcat Lily and Jose Alvarez, who paid $4.40 to show.
Jamaican Smoke, Heart Stealer, Distortion, and My Due Process completed the order.
"I love her going out a winner," said Buff Bradley of his longtime stable star. "Seeing her on the backside (trailing), I was about sick to my stomach. I just thought, 'Man, she got left at the gate. There's too much to do.' I was afraid there was too much to do, but when she made that move on the turn, she was just gone.
"This is one of the most exciting for me. Obviously, winning Breeders' Cups is great, but to see her win for the new owner, I was just as excited as if I was the owner. It's good to see someone (Pope) who put so much into the game get rewarded."
Bradley said this being Groupie Doll's last start was not a bittersweet moment for him.
"I know she's going to have a good life. Mandy is going to take good care of her and I can see her whenever I want. I'm just happy with the career she's had. You know she's got to move on at some point. I wish she could keep racing this year, then retire, but I understand the business part of it. She got to stay around another year, and now she's a winner as a 6-year-old. That's something on her resume too."