Breeders’ Cup Memories: Groupie Doll

Groupie Doll was my first introduction to liking the sprinting division. In my early days -when people still had a chance to convince me of something- I bought into the stigma of the sprinting divisions being less than…less than what, I don’t even think I knew, honestly. It was a case of me following too few people with varying opinions; most of my social media timelines in those formative years were primarily people who lived and breathed dirt routes and nothing else.

You see the problem now.

This first Breeders’ Cup recollection is my most difficult because it was also my very first Breeders’ Cup which I attended in person. And it was at Santa Anita. My thoughts on their upper management aside, it had been my favorite track for a long time. It was a dream of mine to say I raced -and won- at a California institution. For a long time, it was a place everyone had to make a pilgrimage to at least once in their lives. Even my father loved it, and he’d never even seen a race before the 2012 editions. Frankly, things have changed.

What’s going on out there now is hard for everyone in the industry and horse lovers on a grander scale. However, watching the industry insist on continuing to turn the other cheek and act like ignoring the organized attacks against our industry will work now as they always have…is fucking infuriating. There’s no other way to say that. I could produce a rant of filibuster proportions but that is an article for another day, another week, and another mindset.

The 2012 Breeders’ Cup was an incredible first introduction for me. Just off the top of my head, I remember seeing my favorite Bobby (Shanghai Bobby), Wise Dan, Groupie Doll, and Mucho Macho Man just missing the Classic. Side note: screaming for MMM shot my blood pressure through the roof and I may have almost fainted. My dad was not impressed.

Like any young fan, I came to worship at Her Majesty’s alter and have my picture taken with a gorgeous work of art. I still treasure this picture above so many others, including the ones I’ve taken of the horses since then.

Aside from Wise Dan and Groupie Doll, I’ve got pictures of all my childhood heros from the Breeders’ Cup: Zenyatta, Mucho, and Bobby. I work for a racing syndicate who owns a son of Tapizar (Dirt Mile winner in 2012). I have the chance to see Beholder (Juvenile Fillies winner) at Spendthrift Farm. I saw Mizdirection sell at auction. My life came full circle since that amazing first trip and I attended last year’s edition at Churchill Downs in person, the spot where my first equine love had her first and only defeat. I’ll be going to Keeneland next year. It’s amazing how much that very first Breeders’ Cup at the Great Race Place has impacted me…my family, even. Life has a weird way of working out.

But, let’s get to Groupie Doll now.

Groupie Doll takes the lead in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Copyright my own.

Back then, pedigrees weren’t my thing, so I had no real way of telling that Groupie was a bit of an anomaly for her family.

Effectively orphaned after her sire, Bowman’s Band, died from complications after colic surgery in 2008 and her dam, Deputy Doll, was struck by lightning in 2009, Groupie Doll carried the banner for both parents through the Breeders’ Cup. The best of her sire’s offspring by a long, loooong way, she’s the sole mare at the top of the progeny earnings list. The next five behind her are geldings with two to three times the amount of lifetime starts.

Born in 2008, she was a homebred for Fred and William Bradley. She was a special mare since her first start in June of 2011, when she broke next to last and did next to nothing. Apparently the lack of an effort wasn’t all that much of a concern, because in her next start -only thirteen days later- she went three wide and mowed them down in a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs. In her third start on the Independence Day card at Ellis, she went four wide in an allowance race and drew off by almost nine lengths.

From there, she was entered into her first stakes race- the Gr. III Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park. She muscled her way through the pack and drew clear by three lengths to earn her first black type. One of the mares she left in her wake back in third was Stage Magic, who would gain fame through her son, 2018 Triple Crown winner, Justify. An erratic stretch drive in the Charles Town Oaks -listed at that time- left her tasting defeat for the first time in three months. In fact, she seemed to cool off for the year, not winning again until the end of 2011 at Gulfstream in an Allowance Optional claiming event.

It could be argued she lost her touch at that point, but “losing her touch” for Groupie Doll still meant finishing ahead of fillies like superstar Mizdirection in the Lexus Raven Run at Keeneland, and losing to Marketing Mix, Bizzy Caroline, Don’t Tell Sophia, and Hungry Island at a distance she hated. There are worse ways to lose your touch for the year.

In what became the cornerstone of her Championship campaign, Groupie Doll started 2012 in another allowance race…against the boys. She pushed him to the edge of his limits and begrudgingly gave way to Boys At Toscanova; who debuted in a Grade III race, who broke his maiden by an eye popping twelve lengths at Belmont Park, who finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to eventual sire sensation Uncle Mo, and who was losing to horses in 2011 that went on to Breeders’ Cup success the next year, Tapizar among that count.

In her next start, she returned to stakes company, finishing third in the Gr. III Sabin Stakes and third in the Gr. II Inside Information at Gulfstream. It wasn’t the most logical choice to step up into Grade I company from there, but that’s what they did. In this race, however, came the change the ultimately made the difference: they added blinkers. The result was spectacular.

It made all the difference because she’d never race without them again. In her next start in the Gr. I Humana Distaff, she overpowered her rivals by greater than seven lengths, once again leaving Musical Romance behind and defeating mares like Switch and Sassy Image to boot. By the time she got to her first Breeders’ Cup, she’d taken home trophies for the Presque Isle Masters Stakes in Washington and the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland. When she arrived at Santa Anita, there would be no question who the public saw as the best of the best.

Switch, Rumor, Musical Romance, Turbulent Descent, and Great Hot (BRZ) all learned what we already knew: there was no beating Groupie Doll in her element (race shown at top). I was screaming so hard, I lost my voice for the rest of the races and by the time I got home, I was completely hoarse. It was worth it. Every second was worth it; especially getting to experience her kick first hand. I don’t know how to describe what I was feeling, but it’s as clear now as it was then.

With her victory, she secured her title as the Eclipse Champion Female Sprinter for the year, an award she’d win in 2013 as well.

Her year wasn’t over yet. In a gutsy move, Buff Bradley sent her to Aqueduct to take on the boys in the Gr. I Cigar Mile Handicap. After her campaign, the concern was how much kick she had left against horses like Coil, Hymn Book, and Stay Thirsty. It turned out she had plenty, losing a heartbreaking photo to Stay Thirsty at his home track.

Groupie Doll went on an almost nine month vacation before returning to do what many thought she couldn’t: win back-to-back Breeders’ Cups. After the race, it was announced she would be sold in that year’s Keeneland November sale. Many were surprised the connections forewent the boutique Fasig-Tipton sale, held just before it with prices twice as high as at any other point in the year. There would be speculation if she’d stay in the country. However, Mandy Pope, heiress to a fortune and collector of famous mares, came to the rescue and she purchased Groupie Doll for an incredible $3,100,000; more than the mare had made in her entire racing career.

“She was gorgeous,” Pope said. “Obviously, she won $2.4 million, she’s a champion, maybe a champion two years in a row. She’s elegant. She was calm and cool, nothing ever ruffled a feather whatsoever with her. She just sits there royally and regally taking everything in stride like, ‘OK, I’m here. I’m cool.’ “

She was offered as a racing or broodmare prospect, and even Mandy Pope initially believed she would be retired.

To my GREAT and eternal joy, retirement was held off for another couple starts: a second attempt at the Gr. I Cigar Mile and the Gr. III Hurricane Bertie Stakes, which would be her swan song. The 2014 edition of the Cigar Mile was not nearly as light as it had been the year prior. She’d have to take on Flat Out, Verrazano, Forty Tales, Goldencents, Saratoga Snacks and Capo Bastone, the headliners that year. She was not the favorite, but the betting public kept her a strong third choice in the wagering. In the end, she was fourth, but beaten less than four lengths for all the money. For a mare visibly coming to the end of her career, it was a strong effort on her behalf.

Her final race proved best: she went out a winner. I don’t have to say much about it, you can just watch.

Not everyone gets a fairytale ending, but Groupie Doll got hers. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear at the end of the telecast. Following her was the ride of a lifetime for me, and she’ll always be special. You can now keep track her foals as they start their own careers. I’ve linked their Equibase pages below. They’re both sired by Tapit; her daughter Doll Collection (creepy name) being the grey and her son, Tapability being a chestnut.

Viva la Groupie.

Doll Collection