Owner Richard Klein and trainer Brad Cox are swinging for the fences with Pinch Hit in the $ 100,000 Groupie Doll Stakes on Aug. 13 at Ellis Park.
The 3-year-old filly comes in off two impressive allowance victories, by a gritty nose at Churchill Downs and then by six lengths at Ellis Park at the Grade 3 Groupie Doll’s mile distance.
Pinch Hit is one of several fillies who aren’t stakes-winners but come into the Groupie Doll in great form. Pinch Hit has run very well since blinkers were added four races back, when after two double-digit drubbings in maiden races, she was dropped in for a $ 40,000 maiden-claiming race and promptly won. That was followed by a narrow defeat in a $ 50,000 claiming race, which was followed by her two victories.
“She’ll get some weight and she’s training well,” Klein said. “She likes that track. We’re taking a shot. What if she wakes up and wins it? Maybe our horse is just getting confidence and who knows how good she could be?”
There could be more than blinkers at play with Pinch Hit.
Cox really liked the filly even before she ran, predicting to Klein that Pinch Hit would be their horse for Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes on Derby weekend and saying, “She shows me everything.”
But after she was second last fall in her first start, Pinch Hit whiffed in losing by 13 and 10 lengths in New Orleans. “We all got kind of down on her, and Brad said, ‘She trains too good in the morning to do this,’” Klein said.
Still, he thought it might be time to sell Pinch Hit’s dam, the multiple stakes-winner Change Up.
“We were thinking Change Up was going to be one of our better broodmares, and she really hadn’t developed into a good one for us. I asked Fred Mitchell, ‘Is it time I get rid of her?’” he said of the owner of Clarkland Farm, where Klein has his family’s broodmares. He said, ‘We should probably a look at that. She’s well-bred and she’s getting older. Just go ahead and move her out.’ That was our plan.”
Change Up still could be sold. But not Pinch Hit.
The day after her first win March 23 at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park, Klein’s father died. Bert Klein was a prominent Louisville banker, businessman and philanthropist who had enjoyed great success in owning and breeding horses with his late wife, Elaine, and Richard.
“It was the last race my father was alive for when we ran a horse,” Klein said. “He was at the Episcopal Home in Louisville. After the horse won, I went over there and said, ‘Dad, we just had a horse win.’ He said, ‘Who?’ I told him. He said, ‘Where?’ I said Oaklawn. He said, ‘What was the purse?’ and I told him. He knew within $ 5,000 what we had earned on the year without paying attention to it that much. He said, ‘Richard, keep up the good work, and don’t get out of the horse business.’”
Klein called Oaklawn asking that the track immediately overnight Pinch Hit’s winner’s circle photo.
“My father dies the next day,” Klein said. “In his casket, in his left arm — like with my mother — is our lime green silks, so they can still be part of the racing with me. Underneath his right arm is the picture of this horse winning. It was his last horse that won, and I wanted him to be a part of it.”
Pinch Hit ran back April 23, losing by a neck. It was Richard Klein’s birthday. When the filly won by a nose May 27 at 19-1 after a race-long battle, it was the birthday of his mother, who died in 2013 after a long battle with breast cancer.
“I’m not a spiritual person, but I’m starting to believe this stuff,” Richard said. “They were up there watching this horse run, and they willed her home. Now, I had somebody call me after the Ellis race, wanting to buy the horse. I don’t know what they were going to offer me. I told them the story and said, ‘Could you sell this horse?’ They said, ‘Nope.’ I said, ‘She’s going to be a part of my broodmare band if she doesn’t win another race, because my father is watching over this one horse.’”
Pinch Hit beat older fillies in her last start and will face them again in the Groupie Doll.
“She kind of figured out what it’s all about to win a race,” Cox said by phone from Saratoga. “She’s a filly we liked all along last fall and thought she had a big future. She just didn’t pan out early on, but she’s coming into her own. I thought it was a really nice field against older horses at Ellis, and she did it the right way. So we’re giving her another shot. This is a big step, there aren’t a lot of options out there for her right now, so we’re giving her the opportunity and see if she can make the most of it.”
Cox also will run one of the Groupie Doll favorites in the Tiger Moth, who is graded-stakes placed and in her last start won Indiana Grand’s Marie Hulman George Stakes. “She couldn’t be doing any better,” he said. “She’s trained really well ever since the Indiana race, so we’re really excited about her.”
Meet-leading rider Corey Lanerie will be aboard Tiger Moth, with Pinch Hit’s rider to be determined. Jon Court, up for her last two victories, is riding She Mabee Wild in the Groupie Doll.
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