December 1, 2020

Serengeti Empress all alone in Azeri; Night Ops takes Essex

Serengeti Empress wired the Azeri (Coady Photography)

When her most likely pace rival lost the jockey at the start, Serengeti Empress had little to worry about in Saturday’s $350,000 Azeri (G2) at Oaklawn Park.

Splashing through the slop under Joe Talamo, the daughter of Alternation set fractions of :23.33, :46.49, and 1:11.34 while opening up a sizable advantage. She maintained her big lead to the wire, winning by 6 1/4 lengths and finishing off 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.46 for her fifth lifetime stakes win and first since the 2019 Kentucky Oaks (G1).

“I was amazed she went 46 and 2, it felt more like 47 and 2,” Talamo said. “She’s got a tremendous stride and does it so easily.”

Owned by Joel Politi and trained by Tom Amoss, Serengeti Empress paid $5.80 as the 19-10 favorite. Mylady Curlin edged 49-1 longshot Saracosa for second by three parts of a length. Co-second choices Street Band and Lady Apple disappointed in fourth and fifth, while Rahway completed the order of finish.

Awe Emma, who might have challenged Serengeti Empress early, reared and dropped jockey Richard Eramia at the start, but continued to race with the field much of the way.

Prior to the Kentucky Oaks wins last spring, Serengeti Empress had also captured the Ellis Park Debutante and Pocahontas (G2) at two, and the Rachel Alexandra (G2) early last season. However, victory had eluded her since, though she enjoyed placings in the Acorn (G1), Test (G1), Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), and Houston Ladies Classic (G3), the latter her season debut on Jan. 26. Her record now stands at 14-6-3-1, $1,731,520.

Bred in Kentucky by Tri Eques Bloodstock and a $70,000 Keeneland September grad, Serengeti Empress is out of Havisham, by Bernardini.

***

Night Ops wins the Essex (Coady Photography)

Night Ops saved ground through the far turn, made a three-wide bid in the stretch and wore down long-time leader Snapper Sinclair inside the final sixteenth to earn his initial stakes victory in the $350,000 Essex H.

Under Talamo, who had guided the 4-year-old son of Warrior’s Reward to a track-and-distance allowance win on Feb. 9, Night Ops returned $15 after completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.09.

Snapper Sinclair re-rallied to turn back a stretch challenge from 19-10 favorite Pioneer Spirit to finish second by a half-length. The order of finish was rounded out by Bravazo, Guest Suite, Laughing Fox, and Bankit.

Owned by Steve Landers and trained by Brad Cox, Night Ops had placed in three of five prior stakes attempts. Most notable was a neck loss to Laughing Fox in the inaugural Oaklawn Invitational last May, and a solid third in a division of the Fifth Season on opening weekend of the Oaklawn meet in January.

Sold for a mere $5,000 as a Fasig-Tipton October yearling, Night Ops has now bankrolled $554,356 from a line of 16-5-3-2. Bred in Kentucky by Aschinger Bloodstock Holdings, he’s out of the Kitalpha mare Bear All.