June 23, 2024

Serengeti Empress shortens up in Acorn; Woody Stephens attracts pair of G1 winners

Serengeti Empress and jockey Jose Ortiz win the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on May 3, 2019 (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

Serengeti Empress has blown hot and cold throughout her career, and was most recently on fire in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs, which she won in wire-to-wire fashion. On Saturday, she’ll hope to avoid a let-down against a less distinguished field in the $700,000 Acorn (G1) over one mile at Belmont Park.

Two-for-three this year after previously winning the Rachel Alexandra (G2) and then bleeding in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), Serengeti Empress appears she’ll have more speed to contend with in the Acorn, which has attracted a few contenders with plenty of upside.

“She’s going to shorten up from two turns to one turn which is obviously inviting speed into the race,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “Her form says she wins races on the lead, but we’ll see how it works in the Acorn. If she makes the lead, great. If she doesn’t, I’m confident she’ll be the just off the pace.”

Also with early foot are Guarana, a 14 3/4-length debut winner at Keeneland for Chad Brown in April, and California shipper Ce Ce, who has raced only twice but was battle-hardened second against older rivals in an entry-level allowance at Santa Anita last out.

“She was run down in the closing yards,” trainer Michael McCarthy said. “Coming back to facing straight three-year-olds will be to her benefit, and I think the one-turn mile will suit her as well. I’d like to see her sitting second with a target.”

Cookie Dough also has early foot, and should appreciate the cutback in distance after fading late in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) and Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).

“She’s done everything right since she’s been here,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who’s taken over training duties from Stanley Gold. “The race looked like it has a lot of speed, so we almost have to hope and lay off it.”

Davona Dale (G2) upsetter Jeltrin is the only other Kentucky Oaks participant in the field. She was elevated from 10th to ninth via disqualification. Fancy Dress Party, undefeated winner of the Beaumont (G3) is in the field as are Bell’s the One and Queen of Beas, second and third, respectively, in the Eight Belles (G2).


Hopeful (G1) winner Mind Control led throughput to take the Jerome (Chelsea Durand/Coglianese Photography)

The $400,000 Woody Stephens (G1) for three-year-olds over seven furlongs presents a challenge for handicappers. The two most accomplished horses in the field are Champagne (G1) winner Complexity, making his first start since a disappointing 10th in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), and Mind Control, who’s tallied victories in the Hopeful (G1), Bay Shore (G3), and $150,000 Jerome.

“He’s a very happy, strong horse coming into the race on Saturday. He couldn’t be doing any better,” trainer Greg Sacco said of Mind Control.

Complexity’s trainer, Chad Brown, will also be represented by Honest Mischief, who makes his stakes debut in only his third start since debuting in February. The Juddmonte homebred is by Into Mischief and out of the brilliant sprinter Honest Lady, making him a half-brother to Forego (G1) winner First Defence.

Also in the lineup are recent Chick Lang (G3) upsetter Lexitonian; Lecomte (G3) and Pat Day Mile (G3) runner-up Hog Creek Hustle; $100,000 Gold Fever winner Wendell Fong, victorious in three of his four starts; and Nitrous and Landeskog, one-two in the $150,000 Bachelor at Oaklawn Park in late April.


Rocketry and jockey Joel Rosario score in the Temperence Hill Stakes at Belmont Park on September 30, 2018 (c) NYRA/Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography

Normally a 12-furlong, mid-afternoon appetizer for the Belmont Stakes, the $400,000 Brooklyn (G2) for older horses will instead be the finale on the 13-race program with post time scheduled just before sunset.

The field of nine includes War Story, runner-up in the 2018 Brooklyn and third in the Charles Town Classic (G2) in his season debut; Rocketry, who captured the $200,000 Temperence Hill over 1 5/8 miles and the Marathon (G2) at Churchill Downs, both last fall; Greenwood Cup (G3) hero You’re to Blame, later runner-up in the Temperence Hill and Pimlico Special (G3); recent Tokyo City Cup (G3) victor Campaign; and multiple stakes winners Marconi and Sonneteer.


Outshine, runner-up to Tacitus in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) but up the track against that same rival in the Wood Memorial (G2), looks to rebound in the $150,000 East Goer over 1 1/16 miles. Among his five rivals is Alwaysmining, the Maryland wonder who saw his win streak halted at six races when 11th in the Preakness (G1).