10/04/2012 1:27PM

Keeneland: Groupie Doll heavy favorite to win fourth straight in TCA Stakes


LEXINGTON, Ky. – The majority of racehorses have a problem of being too slow. For Groupie Doll and her trainer, Buff Bradley, the problem of being too fast popped up last Saturday when the star filly was having her final workout for the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes.

“She went a couple seconds faster than I wanted,” said Bradley, referring to a half-mile breeze in 46.20 seconds with John McKee aboard at Churchill Downs. “John said he did everything he could to slow her down. She just did it so easy, it really couldn’t be helped.”

Splitting hairs over work times aside, the problems have been few and far between for Groupie Doll in her march toward a divisional Eclipse Award this year. The next step comes Saturday with the Grade 2, $200,000 TCA Stakes at Keeneland, where six months ago the 4-year-old filly had a coming-out party of sorts when capturing the Grade 1 Vinery Madison by three lengths.

Ever since then, Groupie Doll has been untouchable, winning the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill before returning from a four-month layoff with another impressive score in the Grade 2 Presque Isle Masters. With Rajiv Maragh back to ride, she will be a heavy favorite when facing eight opponents in the six-furlong TCA, a Win and You’re In race offering a fees-paid berth in the seven-furlong Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita.

“She’s coming up to this about as good as I can get her,” said Bradley, who bred and co-owns Groupie Doll in a partnership with his father, Fred. “The surface doesn’t matter to her. The six furlongs might be a touch short, but Rajiv knows her, and I expect he’ll get her right up into the race. Obviously we’d love to win because it’s Win and You’re In, but either way, it should be a perfect prep for us.”

Groupie Doll will break from post 6 and with $927,850 in earnings will be trying to surpass the $1 million mark in her 15th career start. Her most dangerous opponent would appear to be Emma’s Encore, trained by the iconic Allen Jerkens. Emma’s Encore (post 4, Junior Alvarado) is a two-time graded winner in New York this year but has limited experience on synthetic surfaces. Other possible exotics fillers include Giant Sensation, Newstouse, Strike the Moon, and Zermatt.

The TCA, named for the club whose headquarters is just a few furlongs west of Keeneland, was first run in 1981. It has been a productive stepping-stone to the Breeders’ Cup in recent years, with the last three Filly and Mare Sprint winners – Informed Decision (2009), Dubai Majesty (2010), and Musical Romance (2011) – all having used the TCA as a final prep.

The TCA not only starts the 50-cent pick five (races 6-10), but also starts an all-stakes pick four (races 6-9) with a guaranteed pool of $250,000.