HENDERSON, Ky. (Thursday, August 10, 2017) — A capacity and well-matched field of 12 fillies and mares came together Thursday for Sunday’s $100,000, Grade 3 Groupie Doll Stakes, Ellis Park’s signature race. As they have been throughout the meet, Brad Cox and Steve Asmussen — the two winningest trainers at the meet — figure prominently with two entries apiece.
Cox, who has won with 11 of 23 starters this meet, is sending out Tiger Moth, who in her last start won Indiana Grand’s $100,000 Marie Hulman George, and the 3-year-old Pinch Hit, who comes in off a pair of good-looking allowance victories.
Asmussen, last year’s Ellis meet training champion, is making a run at Cox in the standings, having cut his win deficit 11 to nine (and also having 13 seconds). The Hall of Famer is running Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Churchill Downs allowance winner Adore, who figures to be part of the pace, and Iowa Distaff winner Danzatrice, who should be kicking in late.
Ellis Park odds-maker Joe Kristufek made Tiger Moth, who will break from post 8 under meet-leading jockey Corey Lanerie, the tepid 7-2 favorite over 4-1 Danzatrice, with Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Matron winner Walkabout 5-1. A testament to the competitiveness of the field, only two horses are higher than 15-1 odds in Kristufek’s morning line.
“Extremely competitive race and a tough morning line to make,” Kristufek said. “Tiger Moth won the Indiana stakes convincingly, and Brad Cox and Corey Lanerie are our leaders at Ellis Park — that’s why she got the nod as the lukewarm favorite. Danzatrice and Walkabout were fairly obvious as the second and third choices.
“There are several horses in the 8-1 to 10-1 range who could be live. Put Da Blame On Me and the 3-year-old Student Body come to mind. They don’t have the class of some of the others, but their recent wins make them dangerous. As a bettor, if you’re able to put winning tickets together, you’re going to get paid handsomely for it.”
The Adore connections are hoping to add a graded-stakes victory to the graded placing the filly earned in her third career start when third in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks. She was a tiring fourth off a 10-month layoff at Oaklawn, then ran second at Churchill Downs before winning a 6 1/2-furlong allowance sprint
“She was too rank the first time we ran her back this year at Oaklawn (when fourth off a 10-month layoff), then caught the slop at Churchill and ran a good race,” Asmussen said of Adore. “With her Fair Grounds Oaks, she’s got ability. She’s usually away pretty cleanly and stuff; Ellis, we’re hoping it suits her, trying to return to form. She’s trained well since her win, so we ought to be OK.”
Gainesway Stable’s Danzatrice, a double stakes-winner trying to get a graded placing or better, actually has excellent speed but, aside from easily winning the Fair Grounds’ $50,000 Tiffany Lass, she has not finished up when making the lead early. In the $100,000 Iowa Distaff, the daughter of Belmont Stakes runner-up Dunkirk powered from last to wear down the leaders for the stakes victory.
Two races back, Danzatrice, who has shipped all over the southwest to run, was one of the favorites in a stakes at Evangeline Downs when the jockey Gerard Melancon came off the mare early in the race. She won her next start with Hall of Famer Mike Smith, with Shaun Bridgmohan gaining the Groupie Doll mount.
“We definitely figured out that she needs to come from off the pace,” Asmussen said of Danzatrice. “That’s why Adore and her are a complement to each other. When she was on the lead at Sam Houston, she jumped every shadow and just completely blew that race. Sunland, she just got away from Florent (Geroux) and went 45-and-change (seconds for the half-mile) going a route. We intentionally took her back in the allowance race at Lone Star and had success. For her to put it all together finally after the eventful year she’s had, Iowa was nice. Because the mare does have talent.”
Walkabout, winner of the Grade 3 Matron moved from Arlington Park to Churchill Downs this spring, is one of two graded stakes winners in the field, along with Brooklynsway, winner of last year’s Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland.
Student Body in her third career start won a six-furlong Ellis allowance by 11 lengths in 1:08.21. However, she is a good possibility to scratch in favor of training up to a race at Saratoga, said trainer Chris Davis, who had an adventurous morning Thursday, sustaining a dislocated shoulder in a barn mishap on a horse.
A horse drawing very favorably in getting the rail, given her speed, is Put Da Blame On Me, owned by Evansville’s Mike Bruder. That 4-year-old filly has raced very well since adding blinkers three starts back, including a pair of allowance victories at a mile at Churchill Downs.
Others in the field are CCed, who captured a second-level allowance at Churchill Downs; She Mabee Wild, fourth in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Chicago Handicap; Indiana Grand allowance winner Hone In; and Gulfstream allowance winner She Takes Heart, who breaks from post 2 and also has speed.
“Sunday is going to be a great day of racing,” said racing secretary Dan Bork. “We’ve got classy old veterans in there. We’ve got a couple of young 3-year-olds in there with Pinch Hit and Student Body. We got young ones and old ones and a lot of quality.”
The Groupie Doll will be race eight, with an approximate post time of 4:10 p.m. Central. The Groupie Doll is named for the two-time Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and Eclipse Award winner who won the stakes in 2011 when it was called the Gardenia and was third in 2013 en route to successfully defending her championship.
Also drawn Thursday was the $50,000 Cliff Guilliams Memorial for 3-year-olds and up on grass at 1 1/16 miles. The Cliff Guilliams traditionally was on closing day but was moved up to serve as a stepping stone to the lucrative stakes and allowance races at Kentucky Downs’ early September meet. That also drew a full field of 12, including the accomplished Cox-trained Chocolate Ride; last year’s Guilliams and Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Firecracker victor Pleuven, multiple stakes-winner One Mean Man, Grade 2 winner Flatlined and last year’s Queen’s Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges.
The nine-race card also includes pair of 2-year-old mile turf maiden races, and a strong money-won allowance race at a mile on dirt with an optional $50,000 claiming price that is headed by millionaire Rise Up.
The Groupie Doll Stakes (Grade 3)
Post time: Sunday at 4:10 p.m. Central (eighth race)
pp horse (weight) jockey/trainer odds
1. Put Da Blame On Me (120) Graham/Tomlinson 8-1
2. She Takes Heart (120) Hill/Estevez 30-1
3. She Mabee Wild (120) Court/Danner 15-1
4 Hone In (120) Mena/V. Oliver 30-1
5. Adore (120) G. Saez/Asmussen 12-1
6. CCed (120) Rocco/Walsh 12-1
7. Danzatrice (120) Bridgmohan/Asmussen 4-1
8. Tiger Moth (120) Lanerie/Cox 7-2
9. Walkabout (122) Hernandez/Wilkes 5-1
10. Pinch Hit (115) De La Cruz/Cox 12-1
11. Student Body (115) Doyle/Davis 10-1
12. Brooklynsway (120) Borel/Flint 8-1
Other upcoming promotions:
Aug. 20 live-money Bluegrass Tournament: Ellis Park is back with a handicapping tournament, this a live-money event presented by AmWager. Entry fee is $500 ($200 to prize money and $300 bankroll), betting minimum of $20 on each of 10 races from Ellis Park’s card and optional races to be announced. Top four finishers get trip to 2018 National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas, plus hotel and airfare up to $500. Top 10 finishers earn prize money. Register at www.amwager.com/