With Aqueduct's Grade 1 Cigar Mile back on her schedule, champion Groupie Doll had her first trip to the track since her repeat Breeders' Cup victory Sunday morning, jogging a mile and galloping a mile over Belmont Park's training track.
The two-time winner of the Filly & Mare Sprint, second in last year's Cigar Mile by just a nose, will be making her first start in the 2013 running of the race on November 30 for new owner Mandy Pope.
Groupie Doll was purchased by Pope last Wednesday for $3.1 million at Keeneland's November breeding stock sale and it was widely assumed then that she would join her new owner's ever-growing collection of star broodmares at her Whisper Hill Farm. That group is currently headed by 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, a $10 million purchase by Pope in the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November sale.
A key part of the announcement on keep Groupie Doll in training was that William "Buff" Bradley -- the co-breeder, former co-owner and trainer who also helped raise the five-year-old daughter of Bowman's Band at his family's farm near Frankfort, Kentucky -- would continue to train the champion.
"We're very excited about who bought her," declared Bradley, who had owned Groupie Doll with his 82-year-old father, Fred, and minority partners Carl Hurst and Brent Burns.
"We had thought she would be retired immediately. If we had kept her, we knew we'd probably be looking at the Cigar Mile. I was very excited when Mrs. Mandy Pope called me and asked me if I were interested in continuing on with her, at least for another race in the Cigar Mile. I told her yes, as long as we can keep the same team together."
Bradley said the conversations that led to Pope's decision to keep Groupie Doll in training started soon after the gavel came down at Keeneland, just four days after her second Breeders' Cup triumph.
"I talked to her about Groupie Doll and how she was doing," Bradley explained. "It was kind of hard for me to tell at that point because I hadn't done anything but walk her since we came back from the Breeders' Cup, but her legs felt great and I knew she was feeling well, so I told her that continuing to race her could be a thought."
In making that suggestion during his first meeting with Pope, Bradley put in a plug for his team to continue to be involved should Groupie Doll's racing career be extended.
"I told her that I'd love to train her," he said. "I'd been with her from day one. And I told her that, if it was possible, we would love to take her to New York for her.
"She indicated to me at that time that if Groupie Doll was going to remain in training, that I would be the trainer-of-record. So I felt pretty good after that day. She was very nice and has made me feel very much a part of the team."
Bradley has gone to Belmont Park for the task of readying Groupie Doll for the Cigar Mile, and has taken regular exercise rider Jada Schlenk and assistant trainer Matt Hebert, who also serves as Groupie Doll's groom, with him.
"Groupie Doll did very well," Bradley remarked. "She was very much into herself and showed a pretty good energy level, which is what we wanted to see. Everything there was good."
Pope indicated there could be more races beyond the Cigar Mile in the press release announcing the new plans for Groupie Doll, but Bradley said his conversation with the mare's new owner has not gone beyond November 30.
So Bradley will be focused on the progress of Groupie Doll in New York in the coming days as she continues a 2013 campaign that, so far, includes only four races. He'll be doing so while keeping an eye on what's happening with his stable at Churchill Downs and, of course, on the farm owned by his father and the family.
"I'll fly back home during the next three weeks, just to check on things there," Bradley said. "I told (Pope) that I'd be happy to do whatever she wanted me to do with Groupie Doll and take her wherever she wanted me to take her. This mare's been very good to me, and I just appreciate the opportunity she's given me to continue to go along with her."
Groupie Doll and her regular rider, Rajiv Maragh, will be competing for a $1 million gross purse in the Cigar Mile by virtue of a special purse incentive provided by the New York Racing Association for Breeders' Cup winners. The chestnut mare already sports a 21-11-4-4 scorecard and has career earnings of nearly $2.5 million.
Also going for the enhanced $1 million purse will be Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents, while Alpha, Verrazano and Capo Bastone would be competing for a secondary incentive that offers a gross purse of $750,000 to Grade 1 winners.
Others looking at the Cigar Mile include Gentlemen's Bet, third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and stakes winner Forty Tales.