Updated on 05/03/2013 4:03PM

Churchill Downs: Aubby K tries to fill Groupie Doll's shoes in Humana


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With reigning champ Groupie Doll still on the sidelines, the filly and mare sprint division remains wide open and begging for someone to step up and take control – at least until the queen returns to reclaim her throne later this season.

On Saturday, nine hopefuls will look to fill Groupie Doll’s very big shoes when squaring off in the $300,000 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs. Groupie Doll dominated the 2012 Humana Distaff, using her victory in the Grade 1 dash as a springboard to her championship campaign.

Emma’s Encore is the only Grade 1 winner in the field this year, but she figures to be an outsider in a lineup that also includes recent graded stakes winners Aubby K and Rumor as well as Byrama, who narrowly missed capturing the Grade 1 Madison last month at Keeneland.

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Aubby K has been at her best when fresh. She launched her career with a spectacular 15 1/2-length victory at Belmont in September 2011, registered a 9 3/4-length entry-level allowance victory in March 2012 at Gulfstream Park, and scored by three lengths when making her 2013 bow nearly seven weeks ago in Gulfstream’s Grade 2 Inside Information.

“She’s doing well and came out of the Inside Information in great shape,” said Ralph Nicks, who trains Aubby K for owner-breeder James Spence. “She seems to be a lot stronger than she was last year, and she’s training well, so having had seven weeks since that race, I see no reason why she won’t perform well.”

The Humana Distaff will mark Aubby K’s third try against Grade 1 company. She finished third behind Contested going a mile in the Acorn last May and eighth against that same rival last summer in the Test. She also ran well in her only previous start at Churchill Downs at 2.

“I think seven furlongs is really her thing,” Nicks said. “She ran here in the Pocahontas as a 2-year-old and was in front to the sixteenth pole that day, going a little further than she likes, and only got beat a couple of lengths in just the second start of her life.”

Rumor rallied to a half-length decision over Teddy’s Promise in the Grade 3 Las Flores at Santa Anita on March 10, and trainer Richard Mandella is hopeful that Rumor will be able to duplicate that performance at Churchill Downs.

“She’s a good, little mare, doing great, and ran one of her best races in the Las Flores,” Mandella said. “This is reaching up a little bit for her, but she tries hard and will give it all she’s got. I’m just worried about her shipping well enough. We’ve never taken her away from home and done it, so I hope that works.”

Like Aubby K, Rumor has had two previous starts against Grade 1 competition, finishing a tiring sixth in the 2012 Santa Monica and a distant fifth behind Groupie Doll last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Emma’s Encore, who blew out a sharp half-mile in 47.89 seconds for the Humana Distaff on Wednesday, got up in the final jump to upset the Grade 1 Prioress last summer at Saratoga but has gone winless in five subsequent starts for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens. She finished third, 3 3/4 lengths behind Aubby K, in the Inside Information.

Byrama, who has done her best running over turf and synthetic tracks, had to take up sharply and alter course near the eighth pole before finishing full of run to just miss becoming a Grade 1 winner in the Madison.

A previous version of this article misstated the purse of the Humana Distaff. It is $300,000, not $250,000.