09/06/2012 2:33PM

Presque Isle Downs: Groupie Doll making return in Masters

Barbara D. Livingston
Groupie Doll, ridden by Rajiv Maragh, wins the Humana Distaff in track-record time at Churchill last May.

There are always concerns about whether a horse can return to form following a layoff, especially when an injury is involved.

But trainer Buff Bradley seems unconcerned that Groupie Doll, arguably the leading candidate in the filly-mare sprint division, has lost anything in the four months since she wowed the racing world with a seven-furlong track record in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on the May 5 Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs.

Groupie Doll will be favored off that four-month layoff when she ships from Churchill to the Erie, Pa., area to face 11 other fillies and mares Saturday evening in the premier race of the Presque Isle Downs meet, the Grade 2, $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters.

“After the Derby Day race, we gave her six weeks off by design,” said Bradley, who also bred and owns 4-year-old Groupie Doll with his 81-year-old father, Fred. “A couple weeks after she came back, she had a strained ligament behind her left hock. She could have done it any number of ways – on the track, in her stall - we just don’t know how. It took about two weeks of icing and work to get it back down. I call it a minor injury. It’s known as a curbed hock, and it’s completely fine now. It’s not a factor at all.”

With that small bump behind her, Groupie Doll will continue on her quest toward a divisional Eclipse Award. After the Masters, which goes at 6 1/2 furlongs on the Tapeta synthetic track, she will run in the Oct. 6 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland before heading to Santa Anita for the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

“I think she’s pretty tight and ready to run,” said Bradley. “She’s done nothing but train great since the hock issue.”

After a five-furlong workout in 58 seconds on Aug. 24 at Churchill, Bradley said, “she got back to her stall and rolled around, then got up and bucked, jumped, and squealed. I thought, ‘She’s pretty happy with herself right now.’ I think we have her physically and mentally ready.”

Jockey Rajiv Maragh will be in from New York to reunite with Groupie Doll, who was assigned post 7 as the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Bradley said shipping plans called for Groupie Doll to leave Churchill before dawn Saturday for the seven-hour van ride to northwestern Pennsylvania.

Clearly the Masters should be a useful barometer on where Bradley stands with Groupie Doll, who has proven equally adept in her 13-race career on dirt and synthetics. The opposition is deep and relatively strong, with the potential upsetters including the ultra-fast filly It’s Me Mom, beaten favorite in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss last month at Saratoga; Kitty In a Tizzy, a synthetics specialist based in New York with trainer Jim Bond; and two other Churchill fillies, Bouquet Booth and Salty Strike.

The balance of the field is Sweet Cassiopeia, Atlantic Hurricane, Interrogate, Holy Heavens, Holiday for Kitten, Sally Sally, and Ariana D. Of those, maybe Holiday for Kitten and Ariana D are the most dangerous sleepers at a big number.

The Masters goes as the sixth of eight Saturday races, with first post set for 5:25 p.m. Eastern and the feature going at 7:30. The 2011 winner at nearly 9-1 was Musical Romance, the eventual Eclipse champion in the division.