by Alicia Hughes
A more relaxed version of Street Band ended up wreaking all kinds of havoc in the sophomore filly ranks as the daughter of Istan took command at the furlong marker and drew off for a 3¾ length victory in the $400,000 Grade II Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks.
The mile-and-a-sixteenth Fair Grounds Oaks was one of four graded stakes on the undercard of $1 million Grade II Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots and offered 100 qualifying points to the winner toward the Grade I $1.5 million Longines Kentucky Oaks on May 3 at Churchill Downs.
The pre-race focus on Saturday rightfully landed on Serengeti Empress, the multiple graded stakes winner out of Tom Amoss’ barn who had captured the Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the New Orleans track by 4½ lengths on February 16. As is her modus operandi, Serengeti Empress shot to the front in the Fair Grounds Oaks and cut fractions of :24.12 and :47.48 while maintaining a one-length advantage.
While the 1-5 favorite was setting the pace, Street Band was tracking along in fourth – similar to her midpack run in the Rachel Alexandra where she finished fourth. Unlike her effort that day, jockey Sophie Doyle felt a she had a more mature horse under her as she tracked the Fair Grounds Oaks pace.
“The race set up the same as last time. But I just managed to just get her to drop her head,” said Doyle, who piloted Street Band for trainer Larry Jones. “In the last race, her head was up, I was getting hounded from behind and I didn’t have as much room. Today we just had a beautiful trip and everything set up right.
“Her head dropped down today and she traveled into the bit where the last time he head was up and she was fighting me and every step was like ‘relax filly, relax’. Today she took it like a professional and traveled great.”
Liora moved up three-wide on the far turn to overtake Serengeti Empress and looked poised to draw clear under jockey Channing Hill. Instead, the filly was met by a challenge from Street Band surging three wide in the lane and Doyle had plenty to work with as her mount hit the wire in 1:44.54 over a track rated fast to reward backers that sent her off at 10-1 odds.
“I thought I had a perfect trip,” Hill said of Liora. “She broke out a step on the outside, but she put herself in the game. Once I put [Serengeti Empress] away, I was just hoping my filly wouldn’t pull up, and she didn’t – she ran all the way to the wire. I cannot believe that horse went by me.”
Liora held for second with Sweet Diane third. Eres Tu, Speedette, Slewgoodtobetrue were next with Serengeti Empress dropping back sharply to finish last in the field of seven. The daughter of Alternation was vanned off after the race and Amoss later confirmed that she appeared to have bled but was otherwise physically sound.
Jones has saddled three winners of the Kentucky Oaks in Proud Spell (2008), Believe You Can (2012), and Lovely Maria (2015) with the first two winning the Fair Grounds Oaks in the lead up to those triumphs. He co-bred and co-owns Street Band along with his wife Cindy Jones and partner Ray Francis.
Street Band improves her record to three wins from eight starts with $310,325 in earnings. She is out of the Street Cry mare Street Minstrel, who also was trained by Jones.