September 23, 2020

Serengeti Empress earns Breeders’ Cup berth with game Ballerina win

Serengeti Empress
Serengeti Empress wins the Ballerina Stakes (Coglianese Photos/Joe Labozzetta)

Serengeti Empress has always been a fast filly who, when conditions are ideal, can stretch her speed over a distance of ground.

However, in the wake of her one-length victory in Saturday’s $300,000 Ballerina H. (G1) at Saratoga over 7 furlongs, in which she clinched a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) at Keeneland in November, the 4-year-old will avoid the bigger beasts in what is an incredibly deep two-turn division.

“I look forward to staying at the seven-eighths distance, maybe getting one more start in her before the Breeders’ Cup,” said trainer Tom Amoss.

Ridden for the first time by Luis Saez in the Ballerina, Serengeti Empress broke a touch slow from post 1 but rushed up and was able to seize early control from Letruska. The early fractions were a brisk :21.75 and :43.74.

“She didn’t break on time,” said Amoss.” She was a step slow, but when you go seven-eighths and you have that opening on the track before you hit the main track, you get an opportunity to catch up, and she did. She was able to regain her position, but I really thought that opening half-mile in was going to be her doing in.”

Coming under a drive turning for home, Serengeti Empress turned back Letruska and then gamely dug in when challenged by 5-2 favorite Bellafina to her outside in the run to the wire. The daughter of Alternation held on for the second top-level win of her career in a time of 1:21.63 over a fast track.

Owned by Joel Politi, Serengeti Empress paid $8.30 as the second choice. Bellafina finished second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Victim of Love. Come Dancing, the 2019 Ballerina, ran fourth and was followed by Letruska, Pink Sands, and Cookie Dough.

This was the shortest stakes win for Serengeti Empress since taking the 2018 Ellis Park Debutante, also over 7 furlongs, by more than 13 lengths. Four other stakes wins — the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Azeri (G2), Rachel Alexandra (G2), and Pocahontas (G2) — have all been around two turns, but Serengeti Empress ran perhaps her best race of last season, outside the Oaks, in defeat when just a half-length behind champion Covfefe in Saratoga’s 7-furlong Test (G1).

Cutting back in trip Saturday after a pair of disappointing runs in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) and Fleur de Lis (G2), Serengeti Empress moves on with a record of 17-7-3-1, $1,907,653.

“I’ve been pointing to this race since she was well-beaten by Midnight Bisou in her last race going a route of ground (the Fleur de Lis),” said Amoss. “We wanted to avoid Midnight Bisou but more importantly, when you win the Kentucky Oaks which is a two-turn race, you’re almost married to continue to run these two-turn races. Today, we got an opportunity to move back to middle distance, and I think we found a home here.”

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