Louisville owner Richard Klein said that right after the 3-year-old Pinch Hit finished fourth in Ellis Park’s Grade 3 Groupie Doll last year that trainer Brad Cox told him the filly would be their 2018 winner.
All that’s left now is the actual running of the $100,000 mile stakes, which will be run Sunday for the 37th time. Pinch Hit has done her part so far in not only getting to the Groupie Doll but as one of the favorites off her victory in Indiana Grand’s $100,000 Mari Hulman George Stakes. Entries will be taken Thursday for Sunday’s card, which includes the inaugural $75,000 Ellis Park Derby for 3-year-olds at a mile.
“Now we’re taking a step up and hopefully she can be competitive in the step up,” Klein said. “The funny thing is that after the race last year, Brad said, ‘Circle the Groupie Doll next year. We’re going to win it with this filly.’ He said, ‘Our goal is to get her to this race next year and to win the Grade 3.’”
Prophecy aside, here’s another reason to like Pinch Hit: Cox has won 15 of his last 29 starts at Ellis Park, including two stakes last Sunday, after starting off 0 for 13 in pursuit of his second training title at the track.
Cox also has used the Mari Hulman George as a very effective launching pad to Groupie Doll success. Tiger Moth swept the races last year, and Call Pat captured the 2015 Groupie Doll after being second at Indiana Grand. The Groupie Doll was the first graded victory for both fillies.
With five wins (two in stakes) and three seconds in 13 starts, a graded-stakes victory or even placing would be significant for Pinch Hit’s value as a broodmare. Not that she’ll ever be sold, as the daughter of Harlan’s Holiday is special to Klein.
Pinch Hit, bred by Klein in partnership with his parents, won the day before the death of his dad, Bert. The Louisville banker and philanthropist was buried with the silks and win photo from the race. Then on the birthday of Klein’s late mother, Elaine, Pinch Hit won an allowance race at Churchill Downs at 19-1.
Pinch Hit followed that with a six-length allowance win at Ellis Park to earn a shot at last year’s Groupie Doll, in which fourth place was a big effort after being wide much of the race. The filly won Churchill Downs’ Dogwood Stakes in her next start.
The filly has improved in three starts this year: a fourth in Churchill’s Grade 3 Winning Colors that at six furlongs might have been a little short for her, a troubled second in an allowance race won by Groupie Doll contender Champagne Problems and then the Indiana stakes victory.
“It took probably a little longer than we wanted to bring her back (off a layoff), but it’s worked out well,” Klein said.
Pinch Hit can take the sting away from last Sunday at Ellis, where Klein’s horse Will Call, also trained by Cox, was seventh (though beaten only three lengths for everything) as the strong favorite in the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Sprint. Will Call had been scheduled to run at Saratoga in Sunday’s Troy Stakes but was rerouted back to Kentucky because of concern of soft turf after all the rain in New York.
“My horse is the only one who didn’t step up for Brad or Shaun,” said Klein, referencing jockey Shaun Bridgmohan’s six-win and Cox’s four-win afternoon. “I think it was the shipping from Saratoga. It may have zapped him, who knows? It is what it is.”
Still, he doesn’t second-guess that decision. “They ran the Troy on the turf, and the horse that won I guess tore a suspensory and is retired,” Klein said.
Cox also is running the 3-year-old Ellis allowance winner Sense of Bravery in the Groupie Doll, perhaps with an eye on the 2019 race.
Jason Barkley gets first Ellis win; even better, he beats his dad!
Jason Barkley certainly is very familiar with the Ellis Park winner’s circle, being the son of long-time Ellis-based trainer Jeff Barkley and also frequently saddling horses for out-of-town trainers.
But Katie’s Reward gave the University of Louisville graduate his first victory as a trainer at his hometown track Sunday. Making the event even more memorable, runner-up Jemrose is trained by his dad. Jason Barkley claimed Katie’s Reward for $7,500 out of her prior race, promptly winning a $16,000 claiming race.
“It was my first one at Ellis, and Dad was second, so that was cool,” said the third-generation trainer who now has 10 horses after going on his own last summer and winning his first race last fall at Keeneland. “His horse got in a little trouble on the turn, or he might have got me. But the filly ran big. Shaun did a good job with her. He rode her last time, and I haven’t had her very long. So I said, ‘You know her better than I do, so just do what you want.’
“It was cool to win the first one at the track, cool to have Dad there, everybody be there, having him in the race and the winner’s circle.”
Katie’s Reward proved one of Bridgmohan’s six winners on the day, holding off Jemrose by three-quarters of a length, with Jemrose second by a neck.”
“It was fun,” Jeff said. “Any time you get to race against your son, it’s fun. If I had to lose a race, I was more than glad to lose it to him. It was good for him. He needs it to help him along the way. I think this is maybe the third time we’ve raced against each other. I think he’s maybe up on me 2-1 where he finished in front of me. Yeah, he’s got bragging rights on me right now. He’ll probably bust my chops for a little while, but that’s OK.”
Jeff jumped into the winner’s circle with his son and family. “I wasn’t going to miss it, because I did miss his first win at Keeneland,” he said. “I wasn’t there. I was home, probably blowing the roof off the house when he won his first race, my wife and I both were home. I’m excited for him.”
Actually the Barkleys got into the winner’s circle twice Sunday. After the next race, the two trainers, who share a barn at Ellis, were honored as recipients of Rockhouse on the River’s Barn of the Week, which recognizes outfits whose Ellis barns show pride and care by their occupants.
You’d think watching your son and husband finish 1-2 in a horse race would be thrilling. Not quite.
“I don’t want to go through that again,” said Sandy Barkley. “It’s too nerve-wracking. I was rooting for both of them at the same time. That’s what I’ve got to do.
“I just wanted one of them to win, but next time Jeff has to beat Jason. I wanted Jason to win really bad this time — maybe they can go back and forth, or how about a dead heat? That would be fun.”
Is the elder Barkley proud and glad Jason followed him into training or does he wish Jason had pursued a more stable profession than, well, his current stable profession?
“That’s kind of a loaded question,” proud dad said with a laugh. “It is hard. But you know what? He’s made the connections, and he’s going to be OK. He’s a lot farther along at this point of his career than I ever was. It took me a long time to get horses and the stable built up, things like that. He’s way ahead of the game. He’s worked for some fine people along the way, and that’s helped him, too. Yeah, we’re proud of him.
“Jason has been around it forever, from the time he was born. We got his first win picture out here when he might have been four months old. It’s been a long time coming for him and something he’s wanted to do his whole life. Of course he went to college and got his degree, which is good, but this is what he always wanted.”