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HENDERSON, KY – Anderson Stables’ Lady Kate, the 2020 RUNHAPPY Groupie Doll winner, is the only return winner from last year’s 5 dirt stakes on the RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby Day card.
Then again, she’s the only who could, with the other four stakes limited to either 2-year-olds or 3-year-olds.
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Lady Kate also is seeking to become the first 2-time winner of the stakes, which dates to 1987. Even Groupie Doll, the 2-time Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and champion female sprinter, only won the stakes now named for her once, that coming in 2011 as a 3-year-old. Groupie Doll also was third in 2013 en route to her second championship.
The 5-year-old Lady Kate, with Adam Beschizza to ride, goes up against familiar faces in last year’s Groupie Doll runner-up New Roo and third-place Istan Council.
“She’s doing well,” trainer Eddie Kenneally said of Lady Kate, who recently shipped over from his Keeneland barn. “She seems to like it here, and she was successful in the race last year and got it done first time running on this track. She’s been here a few days and settled in nicely. She’s been doing her breezes at Keeneland. It’s a loaded race, quite a few runners in there. But I think it was a good big field here last year as well.”
After the Groupie Doll, Lady Kate finished second to champion Monomoy Girl in Churchill Downs’ delayed La Troienne (G1). She tired to 10th after pushing the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), then in her only start this year was fifth in Aqueduct’s Distaff Handicap (G3) in April.
“She seems to like Ellis and Churchill,” Kenneally said. “So hopefully we can repeat something like we did last year with her. But she’s in great shape. She did’t have a prep for the race this year. She hasn’t run since the first week of April. So she’s coming in fresh with no prep. That’s the only concern: She doesn’t have a race under her belt coming in against horses that are fit and racing.”
That Grade 1 placing was huge for Lady Kate, a daughter of champion Bernardini who cost $485,000 as a yearling.
“For a filly with a pedigree like her it enhances her value tremendously to be placed at all in a G1,” Kenneally said. “It stamps her value going forward. So it means a lot for those kinds of fillies. She was a high-dollar yearling and thankfully it’s turned out.”
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Even if Sally’s Curlin hadn’t won CJ Thoroughbreds’ first graded stakes, the 5-year-old mare would hold special meaning for managing partner Corey Johnsen.
“First and foremost, she’s named for my daughter, Sally,” said Johnsen, who before becoming a full-time horseman was a noted racetrack operator who ran and owned part interest in Lone Star Park and Kentucky Downs until those tracks were sold. “That’s most important. Secondly, she is our first graded stakes winner.”
Now Sally’s Curlin returns off a 3 1/2-month layoff in the Groupie Doll. Sally’s Curlin has raced at Ellis Park once before, winning an entry-level allowance race at the Groupie Doll’s mile distance in 2019.
“She worked like the wind Saturday,” Johnsen said by phone from Texas. “We were looking forward to a strong 5-year-old campaign from Sally. And then she just kind of lost her focus in the spring and we gave her some time off. She’s coming back from that break and the word is that she’s training as good as ever.”
Said trainer Dale Romans: “It’s all positive with Sally’s Curlin. We gave her a little freshener and she came back better than ever. Hopefully she jumps up and runs to her old form.”
Corey Lanerie has the mount.
Sally’s Curlin — a $160,000 Keeneland yearling by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin — was among the first horses purchased by CJ Thoroughbreds when Johnsen and his son, C.J., launched the syndicate. The mare is owned in partnership with Left Turn Racing and Casner Racing.
Sally’s Curlin required 5 starts to win, doing so the first time she ran in blinkers. Aggressively placed in the Indiana Oaks (G3) off that victory, she beat one horse but rebounded to win at Ellis Park. That was immediately followed by a 9 1/4-length second-level allowance victory at Churchill Downs and the Chilukki Stakes (G3) that provided CJ Thoroughbreds its initial graded stakes triumph. In fact, including her maiden win, Sally’s Curlin is 4 for 4 at a mile on dirt.
Sally started her 4-year-old season with victory in Gulfstream Park’s Hurricane Bertie (G3) at 7/8 of a mile in mid-March. Then COVID hit and she didn’t race until July, finishing fifth in Keeneland’s Madison (G1) and third in Churchill Downs’ delayed Derby City Distaff (G1), both with exceedingly tough fields.
5 disappointing races later, including her last 2 starts on grass, and it was time for a break and chance at a reset.
“Her 4-year-old year got messed up by COVID-19 and the race cancellations,” Johnsen said. “We had so many high hopes after that Hurricane Bertie effort, when she ran a super-good speed figure and the race of her life. And then we just couldn’t run her at her favorite tracks and favorite distances for a long time. It was very disappointing. Having said that, she is Grade 1 stakes-placed, and she ran a great race that day at Churchill…. I’m hoping the old Sally will show up.”
Of course, the last time Sally ran at Ellis, it launched that her 3-race win streak. Johnsen promised before the Ellis victory that if she won, he would donate $500 to the Kentuckiana Friends of V foundation that raises money for cancer research and programs. Bob Valvano and Mike Pratt happened to be broadcasting their sports-talk show on Louisville’s ESPN 680 that day as part of a KFOV fund-raiser.
It turns out that KFOV is having a golf fundraiser on Monday in Louisville. Johnsen knows a good-luck charm when he experiences one, saying, “If Sally wins the Groupie Doll, we’ll donate $1,000. One of the best races of her career was at Ellis Park. We’re hoping that setting will create some more success for her. She is the ultimate one-turn mile horse, and that’s perfect for her.”
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