LOUISVILLE, KY (Saturday, May 4, 2019) – Serengeti Empress proved in winning the 145th Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on Friday that when she’s on the lead, she’s tough to overtake.
“She just ran them off their feet,” said a tired Tom Amoss, trainer of the winner of the 1 1/8-mile Grade I race for 3-year-old fillies. “She took it to them at the starting gate, she just ran them into submission.”
The party celebrating the 1 ¾-length victory by Joel Politi’s filly, with Jose Ortiz riding, over Liora and rider Channing Hill, continued well into the night. “I haven’t been up like that since I was in college, and I’m 57 years old,” said Amoss, on his way to getting some early Derby Day rest before the day’s racing began.
The Kentucky-bred daughter of Alternation, out of the Bernardini mare Havisham, also was resting in her stall after finishing the Oaks in 1:50.17, on a track upgraded to fast following a muddy morning from overnight rain.
Her Oaks run proved to Amoss just what she’s capable of accomplishing.
“Even when Wayne’s filly (runner-up Liora, trained by Wayne Catalano) was getting to her at the eighth pole,” Amoss said, “and it looked like it was going to be a horse race, ‘Serengeti’ caught her out of the corner of her eye. She took off again, no one was going to get by us.”
The 13-1 shot, sent off from the No. 13 post position, paid $28 to win.
Her fifth victory from eight lifetime starts was worth $705,250, making her a millionaire with earnings of $1,037,120. Amoss said there has been no decision on her next test.
“No plans have been made beyond this race,” Amoss said. “She’s going to get a well-deserved rest between races. What’s that mean? Probably nothing in May.”
Among the top races in early June is the Grade I Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park on June 8, which was won in 2018 by last year’s Oaks winner, Monomoy Girl.
When Serengeti Empress bled in the March 23 Fair Grounds Oaks, Amoss wasn’t sure what to expect from her going forward. But a bullet workout at Churchill Downs showed that it was an isolated incident.
“There were some sleepless nights,” he said. “I didn’t want to do anything to harm the filly, so I thought we did everything we possibly could to make that happen. I’m glad we were as transparent as we were, on social media, with what we were doing.”
OTHER KENTUCKY OAKS NOTES
LIORA – Less than 24 hours after nearly upsetting the Oaks at odds of 38-1, graded stakes winner Liora was reported to be doing “great” by trainer Wayne Catalano, who was still singing the praises of his charge’s effort.
“She ran beautiful, she just got outrun,” Catalano said. “The horse that won beat us a couple of times now, but I thought I was going to win at one point in the race. We’re proud of her.”
Catalano added they would take a look at possibly wheeling Liora back in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (GII) at Pimlico Race Course on May 17.
“We’re going to see, we’re going to take a look at everything,” Catalano said
LADY APPLE – Longines Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Lady Apple is doing well Saturday morning, according Steve Asmussen’s assistant Scott Blasi.
“Man, she ran so well,” Blasi said. “We’re thrilled with her effort. She’s a very classy filly and will keep improving down the road.”
CHAMPAGNE ANYONE – Trainer Ian Wilkes said that Six Column Stables and Randy Bloch’s Champagne Anyone was fine the morning after finishing fourth in Friday’s Oaks and would be given a little break.
With speed holding most of the day and no one challenging Serengeti Empress, Wilkes knew his chances for victory were in peril early.
“Before the race, everybody was talking about speed, speed, speed and then they left her alone,” Wilkes said. “That’s just the way it was. I knew we were in trouble in the first turn and got shuffled back and lost position twice.”
BELLAFINA – Kaleem Shah’s Bellafina, the fifth-place finisher as the 9-5 favorite in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks, was doing fine at her barn on the Churchill Downs backstretch Saturday morning.
Her groom, Garcia Ericson, said his filly had cleaned her feed tub the night before and was bright-eyed following her run in the nine-furlong Oaks.
Neither her rider, Flavien Prat, or her trainer, Simon Callaghan, made any real excuses for the daughter of Quality Road. The English ex-pat Callaghan speculated that his filly may prefer to run shorter distances – one-turn races, he said – and indicated that she would likely next be pointed toward Saratoga’s Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on Aug. 3, a race run at seven furlongs.
Bellafina will return to her Southern California base to continue her training. Ericson indicated she was likely to fly west Monday
STREET BAND – The chestnut filly Street Band, sixth-place finisher in Friday’s $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks, was doing fine back at Barn 28 Saturday morning, reported assistant trainer Corey York.
“She ate it all up last night and she’s doing well this morning,” York reported. “She’ll stay with us here at Churchill and we’ll see what’s next. She’s got lots of options; she can do lots of things. Grass maybe; sprinting maybe. She can do lots of things.”
Street Band had won the Fair Grounds Oaks in her previous outing and now sports a bankroll that is approaching $325,000. The daughter of Istan was bred by her trainer, Larry Jones, along with his wife, Cindy, and their friend Ray Francis. Those three now own her, along with Phillip Shelton’s Medllion Stable and Michael Behrens’ MyRacehorse.com
CHOCOLATE KISSES – Trainer Mark Casse reported all was well with the daughter of Candy Ride (ARG) the morning after her seventh-place finish in the Oaks.
The late-running filly got the trip Casse was hoping for in the 1 1/8-mile test but didn’t get the pace set up needed for her best run as Serengeti Empress threw down fractions of :23.25 and :46.65 on the front end.
“We needed an extremely fast pace and we didn’t really get that,” Casse said. “We really didn’t have any excuse.”
One silver lining Casse took for the Oaks result was that it may flatter his Kentucky Derby contender, War of Will, by association.
“When (War of Will) won the Risen Star, Serengeti Empress won the Rachel Alexandra and…he didn’t get good Ragozin numbers,” Casse said. “They said ‘well he only ran a fifth of a second faster than that filly’ and I said ‘She’s a hell of a filly, she’s going to win the Oaks’. Then of course both of them came back and ran clunkers so that (her win) makes me feel good.”
MOTION EMOTION – Trainer Tom Van Berg’s experiment to rate Motion Emotion led to an eighth-place effort in Friday’s Longines Kentucky Oaks.
“She’s fine, it didn’t really work trying to rate her,” Van Berg said.
The speedy daughter of Take Charge Indy will remain based with Van Berg’s string at Churchill Downs.
JELTRIN – Trainer Alexis Delgado said ADR Racing Stable’s Jeltrin was fine after her Kentucky Oaks run Friday and would be headed back to Florida on Sunday.
OUT FOR A SPIN – Trainer Dallas Stewart reported Saturday morning that Out for a Spin exited the Oaks in “good shape” after finishing 10th.
Out for a Spin broke from the rail but never responded and was beaten 27 ¾ lengths.
FLOR DE LA MAR – Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said Godolphin Racing’s filly emerged in good order after finishing 12th in the Kentucky Oaks.
RESTLESS RIDER – Restless Rider, who was the last to cross the Oaks finish line, was fine at Kenny McPeek’s barn both after the race and also Derby morning, said assistant trainer Greg Geier.
No decision has been made on what’s next for her, he said of Fern Circle Stables and Three Chimneys Farm’s filly, who at 4-1 was the second betting choice in Friday’s race. She quickly dropped back with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. and never mounted any serious challenge.
“She had a bad post position (outside No. 14) and she was experiencing something that had never happened to her before,” Geier said.
JAYWALK – Trainer John Servis reported that Jaywalk came out of the Oaks with a couple of nicks on her back legs but nothing major. She is scheduled to ship Monday to Servis’ home base at Parx.
POSITIVE SPIRIT – The Rodolphe Brisset-trained Positive Spirit has recovered from her spill at the beginning of Friday’s Kentucky Oaks (GI) in good order. The Michael J. Ryan and Gerry Dilger-owned half-sister to Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Always Dreaming and Spinaway (GI) winner Hot Dixie Chick clipped heels with champion Jaywalk less than a sixteenth of a mile into the nine-furlong affair, tumbling and unseating jockey Manny Franco in the process. The Demoiselle (GII) winner was caught by outriders before the first turn.
“She’s OK,” Brisset said. “She is sound and that’s what’s important. She will more than likely jog tomorrow if all goes well.”