Corey Lanerie is in position to win a fourth Ellis Park riding title. But Sunday he won the track’s biggest race for the first time, guiding John Gunther’s late-running Tiger Moth to a three-quarters of a length victory over Walkabout in the 36th running of the Grade 3 Groupie Doll Stakes.
“It feels great, first time winning this stakes here at Ellis Park,” said Lanerie, who owns a 25-20 lead over Jon Court in the jockey standings. “It feels good to win the signature race of the meet…. You get all the people here, especially on a day like today, all the fans come out for this race. It’s a big day. You get a lot of publicity for winning it, so I was glad to finally get it done.”
In fairness, Lanerie and other riders often have been out of town on Groupie Doll Day, which in recent years fell on the same day as Mountaineer Park’s stakes-laden West Virginia Derby card. In fact, this Saturday, Lanerie was busy winning a race at Arlington Park and finishing an extremely close fourth aboard 80-1 shot Enterprising in the $1 million Arlington Million. So Lanerie applauded Ellis racing secretary Dan Bork positioning the Groupie Doll on a Sunday when there is not the competition from out-of-state stakes.
“I like the way they’re scheduling them now so we can go somewhere to ride stakes, get back over here and not lose any business,” he said.
With Put Da Blame On Me zipping off resolute fractions, including a second-quarter mile in a testing 22.61 seconds, Lanerie had Tiger Moth settled into 10th in the field of 11 fillies and mares. Just behind him was the Ian Wilkes-trained Walkabout, who looked like the winner under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. when they split horses and surged to the fore to wrest the lead from Put Da Blame On Me in mid-stretch.
Lanerie — by design — came seven-wide with Tiger Moth and thought he might have to settle for second.
“Brad and his assistant Tessa (Bisha) told me it would probably be better if I came around with her, because she would be back and she kind of has a grinding run,” Lanerie said. “I went really wide, a lot wider than I normally would. I felt like I went a mile and an eighth. When I saw Brian get through on Walkabout, I said, ‘I’m not going to beat him.’ But once we straightened out for home and my mare got on her right lead, she just proved that she was going to get him and that she was the best horse today. Because she covered a lot more ground and was still able to get it done.”
Officially, Tiger Moth covered the mile in 1:36.10, paying $9.40 to win as the second, a payoff right on line with the 7-2 odds that Joe Kristufek tabbed the mare as the program favorite.
“Being second gets a little old,” said Hernandez, who also was second on One Mean Man behind Flatlined in the $50,000 Cliff Guilliams. “I really thought when we got through that we had it done, but that other horse has really gotten good right now and was just able to get up on his at the end. I thought they were the best two horses in the race, on paper, and it turned out that way. I just wish we could have gotten there in front.”
Trainer Brad Cox watched the Groupie Doll on his phone minutes before his flight from Albany, N.Y., to Louisville took off. Even in miniature, he liked what he saw.
“Going in, we thought the race had pace in it. I figured that would be a good set-up,” Cox said upon landing. “Normally, with large fields at a mile, a mile and a sixteenth, you’re going to get the pace set up. So we did. The instructions to Corey was to stay after her, keep riding her, and as they come back she’ll keep coming. She did. Big effort. Huge accomplishment for her as a broodmare.
“She seems to do her best running when you can just fan her off the turn and get her out in the middle of the track and give her a clean shot. She’s not a filly to get stopped, change path and get her going again. She has that one long, sustained run. Kind of like a train. Not that she’s big. She just gets in that one stride and is coming, never gets tired.”
Danzatrice rallied late to take third, with the Cox-trained Pinch Hit fourth, nipping She Mabee Wild.
“She was trying,” said Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode Danzatrice. “I chose to save a little bit more ground, and waited a little bit longer before she got loose. But once she did, she never quit trying.”
Put Da Blame On Me, owned by Evansville’s Mike Bruder, weakened to sixth as the 2-1 favorite after being 8-1 in the morning line. Rounding out the field were Cced, Adore, Hone In, Brooklynsway and She Takes Heart.
The Groupie Doll was big for Gunther and Tiger Moth because it made the 5-year-old mare a graded-stakes winner, though she had become graded stakes-placed when a rallying third in Oaklawn Park’s Grade 2 Azeri in March before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom.
An oddity of Tiger Moth is that while she trains extremely well over the track at Cox’s Churchill Downs’ base, she has not run well there, finishing sixth and fifth in graded stakes this spring before taking Indiana Grand’s $100,000 Mari Hulman George in her last start before the Groupie Doll for her first stakes victory of any kind.
“It looks like her form keeps getting better and better,” Lanerie said. “Brad and his team have done a great job. This was the first time I saw her and sat on her. Glad to be a passenger, and glad they let me ride her.”
Tiger Moth, a daughter of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, now is 5-4-2 in 17 starts, earning $233,300. It was Cox’s second Groupie Doll victory, following Call Pat in 2015.
The Groupie Doll is named for the two-time champion who won this race as a 3-year-old in 2011 and finished third at 1-5 odds in her first start at 5, but then went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint for the second time.
“We’re very proud,” said Buff Bradley, who trained Groupie Doll, whom he co-owned and bred in partnership with his late father, Fred Bradley. “We always wanted to win the Gardenia and then when they renamed it to the Groupie Doll, it became very special. This was his home track. The marquee race at Ellis Park named after your horse is just very special.”