December 4, 2020

Serengeti Empress tops deep cast in Derby City Distaff; sophomore milers clash in Pat Day

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

A year and four months removed from a triumph in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Serengeti Empress‘ focus is now entirely on one-turn races. The Alternation filly will look to back up her recent win in the Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga in Saturday’s $500,000 Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs, a 7-furlong highlight of the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Having gamely dug in to win the Ballerina by a length, Serengeti Empress may have to pull out all the stops here against a slightly deeper field. In addition to the multiple Grade 1-winning Bellafina, runner-up in the Ballerina but still winless outside Southern California, the Tom Amoss trainee will have to fend off Ce Ce, the Apple Blossom H. (G1) and Beholder Mile (G1) winner who shortens up off back-to-back losses going 1 1/16 miles.

Mia Mischief is the defending titlist in the race, 5-for-9 lifetime over the Churchill strip, and put a scare into the now-sidelined Guarana in the Madison (G1) last time. Third in that Keeneland feature was Bell’s the One, who captured the May 30 Winning Colors (G3) by three lengths the last time she raced in Louisville and will undoubtedly benefit from an expected hot pace.

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Another contentious one-turn affair on Saturday is the $500,000 Pat Day Mile (G2) for 3-year-olds. A strong California-based contingent includes the Bob Baffert-trained Cezanne, a solid fourth behind Thousand Words and Honor A. P. in the Shared Belief S. at Del Mar last time; Rushie, the third-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Blue Grass (G2) who was under Kentucky Derby (G1) consideration until last weekend; and Vertical Threat, a late-developer who’s won 2-of-3 in impressive fashion for Richard Baltas.

Among the more battle-hardened contenders from the Eastern half of the country are Echo Town, who dominated last out in the H. Allen Jerkens (G1) at Saratoga over Tap It to Win and who had previously run second to No Parole in the Woody Stephens (G1). The latter faded to ninth in the Jerkens as the favorite after setting the pace, but is eligible to rebound.

A potentially interesting longshot is Digital, a close second to Echo Town in a Churchill allowance in late May but who fared poorly when trying the turf last time at Keeneland.