Groupie Doll among stars for Keeneland’s FallStars

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The people behind the scenes – the folks that often don’t appear in press notes, winner’s circle photos or get their names bandied about on social networking sites or racing blogs – are usually the most important factors to the success or failure of a racing stable.

Horsemen know it, often acknowledge it and frequently discuss it when the time is right.

Buff Bradley, trainer of champion Groupie Doll, quickly gives credit for the mare’s strong 2013 comeback that continues in Saturday’s Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland to his wife, Kim. And in the same breath he serves up credit to a Grade 1-winning gelding who also “worked” with Groupie Doll during her time on the farm before she made her two starts this summer and early fall.

“She did great at the farm, my wife Kim took care of her and Brass Hat took great care of her, too,” Bradley said late last month as he prepared Groupie Doll for her defense of the Grade 2 TCA.

Brass Hat, a Grade 1 winner by Prized who is retired at the Bradley family’s farm in Frankfort, Ky., often looks after the family stable’s layups, up-and-comers and even the youngest future racing prospects.

“He’s a good one,” Bradley said of Brass Hat, who won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in 2006 along with five other graded stakes. “He’ll buddy up to anything. When we wean our babies we’ll turn him out with them. He’s a real good babysitter.”

Brass Hat’s time with Groupie Doll, one of six entered in the 6-furlong TCA, was a bit more than babysitting. Bradley said the duo “trained” together in the days and weeks leading up to Groupie Doll’s comeback in the Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes in early August. She finished third in the Gardenia then won the Presque Isle Downs Masters for a second straight year, this time in track-record style.

“Sure, he trained Groupie Doll a bit before she came back,” Bradley said. “They got to running laps around the pasture, and he’d be in front of her, she’d pass him and he’d cut the corner on her and get back in front. He’s smart. We have video of them doing it for like 10 minutes. They weren’t full out, but running pretty hard. I was fun to watch them gallop, fun to see them doing good in the field.”

Groupie Doll is doing about as well as a 5-year-old mare can be as she seeks a return to the same form that landed her the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

She bounced back quickly from the Masters, where she ran down fellow TCA entrant Purely Hot in deep stretch to win the 6 ½-furlong Grade 2 stakes by 1 ½ lengths in 1:14.88. Bradley breezed her twice since, including a half-mile to tighten her up last weekend at Churchill.

Groupie Doll will get a stiff test in the TCA, not only from the former $4,000 claimer-turned-stakes winner Purely Hot, Masters third-place finisher Judy the Beauty and California shipper Gypsy Robin. Judy the Beauty is 2-for-2 on Keeneland’s Polytrack and Gypsy Robin is 3-for-3 on it, including graded stakes wins in the Beaumont and Raven Run as a 3-year-old in 2012.

The $200,000 TCA is one of five stakes on Saturday’s 10-race card that is led by a trio of Grade 1 events – the Shadwell Turf Mile, First Lady and Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity. The other stakes is the Grade 3 Woodford going 5 ½ furlongs on the turf. Keeneland will start its FallStars weekend Friday with two stakes and two more Sunday, including the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster for older fillies and mares.

The headliner of the weekend is of course Wise Dan, the 2012 Horse of the Year who goes after a second straight Shadwell Turf Mile. A field of 10 was entered for the $750,000 Turf Mile, including stablemate Turallure, the gritty Grade 2 winner Willcox Inn and multiple graded stakes winners Summer Front and Silver Max.

The $400,000 Breeders’ Futurity attracted a field of 16 – with Medal Count and Oogley Eye relegated to the also-eligible list – led by Arlington Washington Futurity winner Solitary Ranger and stakes winners General Jack and Conquest Titan.

The $400,000 First Lady, a 1-mile turf event for older fillies and mares, features a little international flavor with Aidan O’Brien shipping Say in from his Ballydoyle base in Ireland and Ed Dunlop bringing Amazonas in front Newmarket in England. The task for those two will not be an easy one with Dayatthespa, Daisy Devine and Hungry Island in the field.

Stormofthecentury, who defeated turf-sprinting superstar Ben’s Cat last time out in the Turf Monster at Parx, is among the field of 10 entered in the Woodford. Havelock, off since racing in England earlier this summer, also returns as he seeks a second straight Woodford victory for trainer Darrin Miller.

Friday’s opening-day card features two stakes, led by the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades for 2-year-old fillies. The 1 1/16-mile Alcibiades always draws a big field and this year’s $400,000 renewal is no exception with 13 entered. The group includes Who’s in Town, disqualified winner of the Grade 2 Adirondack at Saratoga, and Designer Legs, the elevated winner of the Adirondack, along with stakes winners My Conquestadory and She’s Offlee Good.

My Conquestadory, a filly by Artie Schiller trained by Mark Casse, figures to be the favorite off an impressive win over males in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine in her career debut. She switches from turf to the Polytrack for the Alcibiades.

The day’s other stakes, the Grade 3 Phoenix going 6 furlongs on the Polytrack, drew an even bigger field with an overflow group of 15 entered.

The group is led by Gentlemen’s Bet, third in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt last time at Saratoga and making his synthetic debut for Ron Moquett, and Winning Cause, a 3-year-old by Giant’s Causeway whose three wins in as many starts at Keeneland includes last spring’s Lexington going two turns. The one to beat is probably Hogy, an Offlee Wild gelding in top form for Wayne Catalano. Winner of the Troy two back at Saratoga, Hogy added the Presque Isle Mile in his return to synthetic Sept. 8. Joe Rocco Jr., aboard for both victories, gets the return call.

Read about Wise Dan’s win in the Fourstardave this summer at Saratoga.

See what Buff Bradley had to say about Groupie Doll earlier this year.