HENDERSON, KY — Corey Lanerie was all smiles when he got his picture taken in the winner’s circle with Tiger Moth after the 36th running of the G3 Groupie Doll Stakes at Ellis Park on Sunday. All smiles.
After all, he and his filly went very wide in the stretch, and, for awhile, neither rider or his steed looked like they would ever catch the talented filly Walkabout, who had managed to run about a furlong shorter by cutting through an opening closer to the rail.
But, in the end, Tiger Moth pulled things together, pulled her weight and her rider to the front just as they neared the wire to pull off the Stakes victory by a growing three-quarters length, which is the only Graded event at Ellis Park this meet.
Walkabout, who had won a Graded Stakes at Churchill Downs, had to settle for second with jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. aboard for the stable of trainer Ian Wilkes.
“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.
(Editor’s Note: We were there to watch, witness, enjoy, and assist Ellis Park’s fantastic PR director, Jennie Rees, in all her efforts on Sunday. The former Eclipse Award-winning journalist at The Louisville Courier-Journal has not lost her vigor and vitality — or love of horse races. And, it was good to see races of this caliber return to “The Spa of the South” — Ellis Park. Owner Ron Geary was in the paddock, the winner’s circle, the Turf Club and the grandstand shaking hands and welcoming any and all to a fantastic sun-splashed day of fine racing. It was great. )
“It feels good to win the signature race of the meet,” Lanerie continued. “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.
On Sunday, Lanerie and Tiger Moth were all business. And, they had to be to pull off this victory against a field that was very deep and wide with many credible candidates, who had stockpiled impressive resumes coming in.
And, it didn’t take long before the race was on in the Groupie Doll.
With Put Da Blame On Me zipping off fast and furious fractions from her rail position, 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.
Hernandez, who also finished second in the Cliff Guilliams Stakes the race before, grinned, too, after the race. But his string of seconds — which included a tough-beat, nose decision in the recent G1 Haskell Stakes with his steady and talented companion Mccracken, didn’t sit, as well, in the saddle or on the ground after the race.
“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.