Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Paying it forward
By Amanda Duckworth Special to ESPN.com
Groupie Doll (left) and Brass Hat have built a friendship beyond racing.
It is no secret that I love horses, and standing in a paddock watching two horses graze side by side is my kind of therapy. On a sunny but cold day in the Bluegrass, I was doing just that and was quite content.
All of a sudden the chestnut filly snorted and started trotting in circles around her bay pasture mate, begging him to play with her. Even if I hadn't known good and well who I was looking at, once in motion it was clear the chestnut is not your average racehorse. Neither, for that matter, was her buddy.
Unless the Mayans are right and the world comes to an end before the Eclipse Awards are announced, that chestnut filly is a lock to be named the 2012 champion female sprinter. And the bay, well, he won just over $2.1 million on the track.
The two buddies are better known as Groupie Doll and Brass Hat. Although the latter is retired from the track and now spends his days as a babysitter, Groupie Doll is only at the farm for a vacation. She's earned it, after all.
In 2012, Groupie Doll won five graded stakes out of nine starts and was never worse than third. Three of those victories came in grade 1 events, including the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, and one of those second place finishes came in a gutsy photo finish against Stay Thirsty while taking on the boys in the Cigar Mile.
Bred, owned, and trained by the Bradley family, Groupie Doll is currently taking a break from the track and spending her days at her birthplace, Indian Ridge Farm near Frankfort, Ky.
In her downtime, the popular runner is also raising awareness for horses not quite as talented as she is.
Recently, Groupie Doll's connections decided to donate the halter she wore during her 2012 campaign to Second Stride, a non-profit group that retrains Thoroughbreds once their racing days are over. The halter, which ended up going for $650, also came with the promise of a one-on-one visit with Groupie Doll as well as a shoe worn by her best buddy, Brass Hat.
"We thought this is a good time to do it, not two years from now when she is retired," said trainer William "Buff" Bradley. "While she is on everybody's mind, we thought this might bring some attention to Second Stride. It is important not to forget about these horses because almost every one of them is useful for somebody. Most of them do want something to do. I would say 90% of the Thoroughbreds that leave the racetrack and are retrained properly are some of the best horses to do anything with."
Groupie Doll (right) and Brass Hat graze.
This is not the first time the Bradleys have helped Second Stride and other organizations like it. In addition to events like the halter auction and personal donations, the family also gives 10% of all official Groupie Doll apparel sales to Second Stride. Furthermore, Buff Bradley encourages owners who plan on sending a recently retired runner to a retraining organization to send that horse with a donation.
"Right now, it is a little more difficult to move a horse along," said Bradley. "That is why I think places like Second Stride are so important. If they can retrain them, they are worth more as a horse and can be moved on that way. Any of the programs like this are really good, and I am always glad to try and help any of them."
One the most impressive things about the Bradley family being blessed with two immensely talented runners is the fact they have done it from limited numbers. They foal their own mares, and usually only have a crop of 8-10 foals each year.
"I think people can see we do all the work from the ground up," said Bradley. "Everything we get, we put right back in the business. Every bit of the money we made with Groupie Doll this year -- except for some Christmas stuff for the kids -- has gone back into the business.
"Hopefully it helps the small breeder realize they can do it, too. It is not just the million-dollar breeders. Surely if I can have two of them, somebody can have one. While we are very content with the other horses we have, I think everyone always looks for that special horse."
As for Groupie Doll, she has made it clear that when she is given time off, she wants to spend it with Brass Hat. Attempts to turn her out with other horses, but without him, have not gone so well, and thus currently the two Grade 1 winners are spending their days side-by-side.
"I watch them in the paddock, and their heads are two feet apart, eating," Bradley told me before my visit. "When they come up to the fence for peppermints, that is the only time Brass is kind of pushy. He will push her out of the way when peppermints are involved."
(For the record, he wasn't kidding. Groupie Doll might be the champion in the paddock, but Brass Hat is the boss when treats are on the line.)
Happily for racing, Groupie Doll is slated to run as a 5-year-old and will join Bradley's string in Florida sometime around the first of the year.
"I want her to be able to enjoy her time off, running around in a field," said Bradley. "I think Brass Hat trains her partly, so she probably retains her fitness level through him. Getting to be a horse is always good. Brass Hat keeps her in check and takes care of her. I don't even worry about it."
As for the Bradleys, they love the fact that Groupie Doll has become such a popular runner and are happy to share her with the fans.
"After I went through it with Brass Hat -- having a horse like him and with him being so popular -- it made me feel good," said Bradley. "It is good for our game for people to be up close to these kinds of horses, especially the ones that do become popular."
The family welcomes visitors to their farm, and it seems almost too perfect that if they visit at the right time, they will see Groupie Doll grazing the day away with Brass Hat.
"She was in the barn but hadn't even started yet the day he retired," remembered Bradley. "I said, 'Brass, before you leave here, you pass the baton off to somebody!' I guess he did. If you had asked which one I was hoping for, I would have picked Groupie Doll. So, it all worked out."
That goes double for the racehorses that benefit due to Groupie Doll's popularity and the Bradleys' generosity.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.