Buff Bradley shoots for the stakes named after the two-time champion mare that he trained, co-bred and co-owned as Divine Queen runs in Sunday's $125,000 Groupie Doll, presented by Field & Main Bank.
The mile Groupie Doll is co-featured on the Ellis Park card with the $100,000 Ellis Park Derby, presented by Kruckemeyer & Cohn Jewelry.
The Groupie Doll, previously known as the Gardenia, is named for Bradley's horse that won the stakes as a 3-year-old and was third as the odds-on favorite as a 5-year-old. But the Ellis Park performance got Groupie Doll on track after a long layoff to repeat as winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and Eclipse Award champion female sprinter. Groupie Doll was bred by her trainer in partnership with the late Fred Bradley, Buff's dad who grew up in Western Kentucky and considered Ellis Park his hometown track, and campaigned with their friends Carl Hurst and Brent Burns. Groupie Doll was sold at auction days after her second Breeders' Cup win for $3.1 million to Mandy Pope.
Divine Queen was bred by and is owned by Buff Bradley and Hurst. While she's not from the family that produced Groupie Doll, she is related to their horse The Player, a double graded-stakes winner who now is a stallion.
“That would be really cool,” Bradley said of a Groupie Doll victory. “We won it with a home-bred that they named the race after. If I can get another homebred in there to win again that would be really special. We're happy to be in it and glad to at least think we should be competitive in that race.”
The 4-year-old Divine Queen earned her shot at the Groupie Doll by winning a high-quality allowance race by a neck at Churchill Downs.
“She ran such an impressive race and showed a lot of heart in her last start going a mile at Churchill,” Bradley said. “We never really thought we were going to target the Groupie Doll with her. But the race at Churchill showed that we could, that she could go that far.”
Divine Queen is 5 for 15, including victory in last fall's Dogwood Stakes at Churchill at 51-1 odds. She is 9-2 in the Groupie Doll, the third choice behind 7-5 Moonlit Garden and 2-1 Go Google Yourself. Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel, who rode Groupie Doll for Bradley early in her career, has the mount.
“She can be right close to the front, or she can come a couple from off it,” Bradley said. “We can play it a couple of different ways with her. Calvin loves her. She's a very classy filly, just a sweetheart in the barn and does everything like clockwork. She just is all heart. I think that's what makes her a pretty competitive filly.”
Divine Queen is a daughter of the stallion Divine Park, who stood for a $7,500 stud fee before being sold to Korea in 2016. Divine Park, a Grade 1 winner, was typical of the types of sires to which the Bradleys bred. Groupie Doll, for instance was by Bowman's Band, another very good horse that wasn't commercially fashionable.
“We haven't been able to breed to the top of the line,” Bradley said. “We're trying to breed good racehorses, not that we can breed from the big lines but we bred to stallions that are just racehorses. We've been very fortunate that they have produced. Out of four different (female) families, we've had four graded stakes horses, two of those being Grade 1 winners.”
The Groupie Doll and Ellis Park Derby are part of the New York Racing Association's Cross Country Pick 5, a 50-cent minimum wager that also includes races at Saratoga and Emerald Downs. The bet starts with the Groupie Doll, which goes off as the eighth race and with a 4:10 p.m. CT post.
The halter that Groupie Doll had been wearing as a broodmare at Timber Town Stables in Lexington is part of an online auction that runs through Sunday to raise money for Kentuckiana Friends of V, an affiliate of The V Foundation for Cancer Research. The auction can be accessed at kfov.org.
Calvin Borel, who rode Groupie Doll for part of her 4-year-old season, rides Divine Queen in the $125,000 Groupie Doll Stakes and Super Steed in the $100,000 Ellis Park Derby for trainer Larry Jones. Borel won his third of three Kentucky Derbys on Super Steed's sire, the WinStar Farm stallion Super Saver, in 2010.
“It would be really special to win the Groupie Doll for Buff,” Borel said of Buff Bradley, trainer and co-breeder and owner of Divine Queen as well as Groupie Doll. “Her last three works have been unbelievable. It's a tough race, but she fits. I think she'll be very competitive.”
Divine Queen drew the rail. Bradley said before the post-position draw that he didn't want to draw inside with the stakes' start in the mile chute that goes straight into the turn. Borel is not concerned.
“It doesn't matter,” he said. “Actually, I wish it would rain. She loves the mud. But she fits and the way she's been training has been unbelievable. I tell you, she's doing good, and I need to win that for Buff.”
Borel said that the Larry Jones-trained Super Steed, who comes in off a six-month layoff since rallying to win Oaklawn Park's Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, reminds him physically of Super Saver.
“I never rode him before (in a race), but I've been working him,” the Hall of Fame jockey said of Super Steed, who is owned by breeder Mike Pressley of Henderson and Dr. Steed Jackson of Evansville. “Actually, he looks a lot like Super Saver. I worked him about five days ago. He worked in about 1:01 (for five-eighths of a mile), but he galloped out real strong. I guess Mr. Larry is a little worried about the fitness. He's been off for awhile and the race came up a little salty. But if he can finish up the way I know he can, the way he did in Hot Springs (Oaklawn) we're going to be all right.
“Super Saver was not a big horse. This horse is not big, but he has a big heart. He's got the personality of Super Saver. He does everything right. Mr. Larry believes he has him ready, so I'm with him. We're ready.”
Borel recalled Super Saver's Kentucky Derby triumph and said the key was the Arkansas Derby, in which the WinStar Farm-owned colt was second.
“It was the first time taking him back, which was the greatest thing that ever happened, because I got to take him back in the Derby,” he said. “We needed that. It made him win that day.”
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