By Brian W. Spencer
Following a disappointing effort when well beaten in last year’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress returned to her winning ways with a facile score in Saturday’s Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots to earn 50 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
A 19-length winner of the Grade II Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs in her final start before the Breeders’ Cup, the Tom Amoss-trained Serengeti Empress likely won the race at the break when controlling the splits from the start. She led through fractions of 24.02, 47.81 and 1:12.45 under James Graham before stopping the clock in 1:44.74 for the 1 1/16-miles main track distance while 4½ lengths clear of Coffeepot Stables’ Liora, who bounced back from a fourth-place finish in last month’s Silverbulletday to finish second for jockey Channing Hill and trainer Wayne Catalano. It was another 1¼ lengths back to Edward Seltzer and Beverly Anderson’s Eres Tu in third under Ricardo Santana, Jr. for trainer Steve Asmussen.
“Her cruising gear is so good,” Graham said. “You watch her races from Ellis park and from Churchill, she bounces along on the front end and travels through her races beautifully. She put them to bed turning for home. She did it the right way. She’s a little aggressive but she’s fast.”
“She is very naturally quick and that helps her cause a great deal,” Amoss added. “Certainly this racetrack helped her cause…having said that, I think that was a really good performance by a filly that a lot of people questioned whether she legitimately wanted to go a lot of ground…she took it to them today right out of the gate and it was fun to watch.”
Amoss stated that the Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks would likely be Serengeti Empress’ next start.
“I sure want to run there,” Amoss said. “I want to defend our title!”
Amoss won last year’s Fair Grounds Oaks with Chocolate Martini.
The win gave Serengeti Empress her fourth in six career starts, and the $120,000 winner’s share elevated the daughter of Alternation’s earnings to $327,870. She paid $5.80, $4 and $3.60. Liora returned $16.20 and $9.80 with Eres Tu paying $7.
Street Band, Needs Supervision, Oxy Lady, Molto Bella and Positive Spirit completed the order of finish. Bell’s the One and Chasing Yesterday were scratched.
Wayne Catalano (trainer of Liora, second): “Tom had his filly ready. I was impressed. My filly ran her race today. She was what they call ‘second best.’”
Channing Hill (jockey of Liora, second): “Tom’s filly is fast. My filly got bounced around a little down the backside and didn’t get herself put together until the top of the lane. I was real proud of the effort.”
Ricardo Santana, Jr. (jockey of Eres Tu, third): “She tried really hard. We got a good future with her.”