Sunday’s $75,000 juvenile stakes at Ellis Park promised to yield clues for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) points races coming up at Churchill Downs next month, but few could have envisioned the spectacle put on by Serengeti Empress in the Ellis Park Debutante. The Tom Amoss filly demolished her nearest rival by 13 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:22.29 – a full 1.70 seconds faster than it took the colt Tobacco Road to capture the Juvenile over the same seven-furlong trip.
Jockey Corey Lanerie turned the stakes double aboard the favorites, with his mounts employing different running styles. Serengeti Empress, the 7-5 choice off her fourth in Saratoga‘s Schuylerville (G3), blazed right from the start. Burning off her foes after opening splits of :22.21 and :45.29, she turned the stretch run into a procession as she widened her margin with every stride.
“My filly broke really well right from the gate,” Lanerie recapped. “She was in hand pretty much all the way around there. When I got to the quarter-pole, I kind of pushed the button and she went on and finished all the way to the wire. I had plenty left on the gallop-out. She was so far in front by herself that I think she was getting a little lost. I was keeping her busy. But she didn’t need any encouragement today.
“The sky’s the limit, I think.”
The 19-1 Include Edition rallied from last in the 11-filly field to grab second, and 107-1 longshot Lucky Girasol checked in a troubled third. Shanghai Rain rounded out the superfecta at 8-1. Better fancied Somewhere (5-2 ) and Profound Legacy (3-1) could do no better than fifth and sixth, respectively.
A $70,000 Keeneland September yearling selected by Amoss for owner Joel Politi, Serengeti Empress has earned $71,310 from a 3-2-0-0 line. The dark bay broke her maiden by 5 1/2 lengths at Indiana Downs July 4, and her subsequent fourth in the Schuylerville may have been partly attributable to the jockey’s loss of the whip.
“A big disappointment at Saratoga when Castellano dropped the stick on her and just quit riding her,” said Amoss, who went on to describe why Serengeti Empress is well regarded.
“Super intelligent – went through all of her drills without blinking an eye. I mean, every time we challenged her she was up to it.”
Serengeti Empress was bred by Tri Eques Bloodstock in Kentucky and initially sold for $25,000 as a Keeneland November weanling. Her pedigree sports 3×4 inbreeding to Seattle Slew, as a daughter of Alternation and the unraced Bernardini mare Havisham.
One race later in the Ellis Park Juvenile, the 9-5 Tobacco Road unleashed a sustained rally to prevail over fellow Steve Asmussen trainee Whiskey Echo. Owned by L and N Racing, like 2016 Ellis Park Juvenile hero and 2017 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee, the well-bred youngster has a profile similar to his stablemate.
Tobacco Road, by hot sire Quality Road, is a half-brother to two notable turfistes – Grade 2 queen Isabella Sings (by Eskendereya) and Grade 3-placed multiple stakes scorer Alaura Michele (by Arch). Their dam, the French stakes-placed Lomitas mare Isobel Baillie, descends from all-time great distaffer Glorious Song. Tobacco Road’s pedigree duplications include Gone West and Nijinsky II.
As a relatively late foal born May 4, Tobacco Road has done well to win a stakes at this point in his two-year-old campaign. He ran an even, if troubled, fifth in his six-furlong debut at Churchill June 28 and stepped up to graduate handsomely at Ellis on July 29. His progression continued over the same track and trip in the Sunday nightcap.
Tobacco Road was reserved several lengths behind fractions of :22.47 and :45.66, unlike 2-1 stablemate Whiskey Echo, who was parked out three wide on the chase. Whiskey Echo put his head in front of a stubborn Manny Wah in midstretch, but by that point, Tobacco Road was bearing down.
At first hanging when stuck on his left lead, Tobacco Road got the message to switch to his right, and he surged inside the final sixteenth. The bay was well on top at the wire, edging away from Whiskey Echo by three-quarters of a length. The 6-1 Manny Wah kept on doggedly for third, just a head shy of Whiskey Echo, and 11 1/2 lengths clear of 28-1 Overanalyzer in fourth.
“They’re both really nice colts, obviously,” Asmussen said of his exacta. “We felt good about our chances going in. Whiskey Echo off the third in the Sanford (G3), I thought that was the perfect spot for him. And then when Tobacco Road ran so well there a couple of weeks ago, it was obvious to run him back at Ellis. But both colts ran well and handled more ground, and that’s kind of what it’s all about right now.”
“He had a completely different trip from the filly,” Lanerie said of Tobacco Road. “He doesn’t have as much speed as she did. He broke really good, and then the speed just kind of ran away from him. I had to kind of keep him busy the first quarter of a mile. once he found his stride around the turn, from the three-eighths to the quarter pole, I could tell I had a lot of horse. it was just trying to time it right and get him to the front at the right time…
“I got a little worried at the eighth pole. And then by the sixteenth pole I was kind of taking control and getting away from them.”
Bred by the Niarchos Family’s Flaxman Holdings and Airlie Stud in Kentucky, Tobacco Road was a $35,000 RNA at Keeneland September. The smart prospect advanced his resume to 3-2-0-0, $70,905.
According to their trainers, the Ellis principals are logically under consideration for the graded juvenile stakes at Churchill September 15. Serengeti Empress may advance to the Pocahontas (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), and Tobacco Road and Whiskey Echo could get a rematch in the Iroquois (G3), with a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) on the line.