Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress grabbed command of Friday’s 145th running of the $1,237,500 Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs soon after the start, turned back a game late run from Liora in the stretch and crossed under the wire an easy 1 3/4-length winner for trainer Tom Amoss.
The race suffered a scary moment soon after the start when Positive Spirit clipped heels and went down. However, both she and jockey Manny Franco got to their feet soon after and appeared to emerge OK.
Meanwhile, Serengeti Empress had firm control on the lead and proceeded to set splits of :23.25, :46.65 and 1:11.26 while chased by Motion Emotion. That one couldn’t keep up, though and faded as the field turned for home.
Serengeti Empress continued motoring on the front end into the lane with only Liora separating herself from the pack to challenge. Jockey Jose Ortiz asked Serengeti Empress for more and the Alternation filly responded, turning back Liora and crossing under the wire in a final time of 1:50.17 for 1 1/8 miles over the fast dirt.
Sent off the 13-1 sixth choice in the 14-filly field, Serengeti Empress returned $28 for the win. Liora exited the gate at 38-1 and had 5 1/2 lengths to spare on 10-1 Lady Apple, who kept her neck in front of Champagne Anyone to take third.
Bellafina, the 9-5 favorite, came next by another half-length and was followed by Jaywalk, Street Band, Chocolate Kisses, Motion Emotion, Out For a Spin, Flor de La Mar and Restless Rider.
Jaywalk was disqualified and placed last after a stewards inquiry into the Positive Spirit incident at the start. It was ruled she came over into Positive Spirit’s path, resulting in that filly clipping heels.
Serengeti Empress is no stranger to Churchill Downs, having romped by 19 lengths in the Pocahontas Stakes (G2) last September. She backed up to be seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) over the track next out, which concluded her two-year-old campaign. The well-traveled lass kicked off her career with a 5 1/2-length maiden debut victory at Indiana Grand, finished fourth in the Schuylerville Stakes (G3) at Saratoga and dominated by 13 front-running lengths in the Ellis Park Debutante.
The dark bay filly launched her sophomore season in style, leading gate-to-wire to score by 4 1/2 lengths in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds, but stopped, bled and was vanned off in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) last out.
Now boastings an 8-5-0-0 career mark, Serengeti Empress has banked $1,037,120 in lifetime earnings.
Bred in Kentucky by Tri Eques Bloodstock LLC, Serengeti Empress is the first registered foal out of the Bernardini mare Havisham and comes from a black-type rich Argentinean family. She was purchased by Politi for $70,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.