The Road to the 2019 Kentucky Oaks (G1) begins at Churchill Downs Saturday with the $200,000 Pocahontas S. (G2) – also a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) over the same track and trip November 2 – and Serengeti Empress rates as the one to beat off her performance in the August 19 Ellis Park Debutante.
The Tom Amoss trainee had shown promise in her 5 1/2-length debut victory at Indiana Grand, and her fourth in the Schuylerville (G3) at Saratoga was better than it appeared on paper. But Serengeti Empress took a leap forward at Ellis Park, where she grabbed the lead and opened up in a 13 1/2-length rout. Her final time for the seven-furlong Debutante, 1:22.29, was far superior to the 1:23.99 posted by the colt Tobacco Road in the Ellis Park Juvenile.
Serengeti Empress figures to show speed from the rail as she stretches out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time. Jockey Corey Lanerie is back aboard the 5-2 morning-line favorite, who will meet two of her Ellis Park rivals. Include Edition closed from far back to take second in the Debutante, suggesting she’ll prefer the extra ground, while Profound Legacy, a full sister to 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can, is entitled to rebound from a subpar sixth.
Judging by how Serengeti Empress improved from the Schuylerville, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Mark Casse-trained Tapping Pearl likewise left her Saratoga disappointment well behind. A first-out winner at Churchill on June 29, the Stonestreet homebred never recovered from a troubled start in the Schuylerville and wound up a distant ninth. The Tapit half-sister to Grade 1-winning juvenile Drill should appreciate the distance, but she’ll have to overcome the far outside post 12. At least she has regular pilot Florent Geroux in the cockpit.
Others with Saratoga experience are Love My Honey, successful in her unveiling for Mike Maker, and Todd Pletcher’s Two Dozen Roses, awarded her maiden win via the disqualification of Kiaran McLaughlin’s It Justhittthe Wire.
Hot-riding Drayden Van Dyke picks up the mount on Southern California shipper Splashy Kisses. The Doug O’Neill pupil, an inconvenienced seventh behind Brill on debut, created a big impression in her Del Mar maiden score next time out. The well-bred daughter of Blame is another likely to handle a route of ground.
Three entrants have already won around two turns – unbeaten Taylor’s Spirit, equally dominant in the Happy Ticket over a mile on turf as in the Prairie Gold Lassie sprinting on dirt; Lightscameraaction, runner-up in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies; and Indiana Grand maiden winner Saved at Dawn.
Rounding out the field is My Wynter Rose, who must reverse form with both Profound Legacy and Lightscameraaction.
The Pocahontas offers Oaks points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers, as with the other early contests during the “Kentucky Oaks Prep Season.” The lone exception to this schema for the September through early February points races is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, worth twice as much on a 20-8-4-2 basis.