The Sept. 9 Presque Isle Masters Stakes (gr. II) for fillies and mares was an example of how looks can sometimes be deceiving.
With former $4,000 claimer Purely Hot in front past six furlongs in a sizzling 1:08.36 on the Tapeta surface at Presque Isle Downs & Casino, it appeared the rallying Groupie Doll would blow past in mid-stretch and win by at least five lengths.
She didn't. But any suspicion that the two horses in front fell apart was dismissed when the final time of 1:14.88 flashed on the tote board. It was a track record for 6 1/2 furlongs.
Groupie Doll eventually put away Purely Hot to win by 1 1/2 lengths, with the final sixteenth of a mile in :6.52. The 2012 champion filly and mare sprinter won the Masters last year by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:16.32 off early fractions similar to those of this year's race.
Purely Hot, claimed for $10,000 in March by Tuozzo Racing and trainer Nick Caruso, had rattled off six consecutive victories–four of them in starter allowance company–at Presque Isle before the Masters. She apparently is a beast, and one of the claims of the year, given the fight she gave the champion until the final 150 yards or so.
Rajiv Maragh, Groupie Doll's regular rider, said after this year's Masters he believes the 5-year-old mare raced extremely well and, given the final time, is "definitely not slower" than she was last year. And the Masters was only her second start of 2013.
Maragh said the Aug. 10 Gardenia Stakes, a one-mile grade III event at Ellis Park, probably showed Groupie Doll needed a race. She still finished third, beaten only a length, after an early stumble and some traffic issues.
"At the three-eighths pole in the Gardenia, I had horse," Maragh said. "I thought she'd win by 10."
She didn't. But that doesn't mean Groupie Doll didn't run well given the circumstances of not having raced for more than eight months.
Co-owner and trainer Buff Bradley said the Gardenia was a "special race" for the mare.
"She was the favorite, but she got beat and was expected to win," Bradley said. "That was the one negative. But I think I did the right thing running her in the Gardenia. It knocked the rust off of her and got her going again. She was very wide in the race and probably got a little late (in the stretch), but the top two are pretty nice fillies. I think she ran a bigger race than what it really looked like."
Bradley hopes to next race Groupie Doll Oct. 5 in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II), a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" race on Polytrack at Keeneland. She won that race last year, then shipped to California to seal her championship with a strong win in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) on dirt at Santa Anita Park.