Zipse: Deep Houston Ladies Classic sets up for Lady Apple

January 20, 2020 11:08am
Zipse: Deep Houston Ladies Classic sets up for Lady Apple
Photo: Coady Photography

While the eyes of the racing world will be on Gulfstream Park this Saturday to see whether Omaha Beach can go out a winner in the Pegasus World Cup, a little more than a thousand miles away, Sam Houston Race Park will welcome a top-notch field of fillies and mares Sunday for its signature race of the year.

Houston Ladies Classic (G3) may offer only a tenth of the purse up for grabs in the Pegasus, but you would never know it from the quality assembled. Led by Serengeti Empress, winner of the 2019 Kentucky Oaks, it promises to be one of the strongest races for females in the first half of the year.

While the field is somewhat compact at six, the accomplishments of the participants are not. Consider that five horses in the field won graded stakes last year, and the only one that didn't earned a stakes victory in her most-recent start. Let's start with the Kentucky Oaks heroine.

Serengeti Empress first announced herself as a serious racehorse back in August of her 2-year-old season when she won the Ellis Park Debutante by 13 1/2 lengths. Now a four-time stakes winner, she rolled to a front-running victory in the Rachel Alexandra (G2) to begin her season last year and followed that up two starts later with an impressive gate-to-wire victory in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

While she has not won since the Oaks in May, bang-up performances like her second in the Test (G1) and most recently a third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff solidified her place as one of the top fillies in the land. Trained by Tom Amoss, Serengeti Empress will look to utilize her impressive early speed when breaking from the rail on Sunday. Flavien Prat, who rode her in the Breeders' Cup, will retain the mount.

Not far behind Serengeti Empress in the Kentucky Oaks was
Lady Apple. Trained by Steve Asmussen, who won the Houston Ladies Classic last year with his soon-to-be champion, Midnight Bisou, Lady Apple finished third on the first Friday in May, which was one of only two defeats for her in seven starts last year.

Well traveled, the daughter of Curlin also won the Fantasy (G3) at Oaklawn Park, the Iowa Oaks (G3) at Prairie Meadows and the Remington Park Oaks (G3) to close out her sophomore season. 
Lady Apple has been working at Sam Houston all winter in preparation for this, including a pair of bullets in her most recent workouts.

Underscoring the quality of the 1 1/16-mile affair, the Houston Ladies Classic will also boast two other Grade 1 winners from last year.

As with Lady Apple,
Street Band was also a three-time graded heroine in 2019. A decisive, rallying winner of both the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and Indiana Oaks (G3), she scored the biggest victory of her career two starts back when she rallied from well back to win the million-dollar Cotillion (G1), topping a field that included Serengeti Empress.

Trained by Larry Jones, already a two-time winner of the Houston Ladies Classic, Street Band will once again be piloted by Sophie Doyle, as she makes her first start since a troubled eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

The third Grade 1 winner in the field is
Out for a Spin. Trained by Dallas Stewart, she hounded the champion Jaywalk early in Keeneland's Ashland Stakes (G1) before gamely holding off Restless Rider for the win.

The daughter of Hard Spun returned from a sizable layoff in November and has made two starts since, including a good second last time in a listed stakes in New Orleans.

While the newly turned 4-year-olds have the numbers, one of the two 5-year-olds in the field also rates a big chance. Mylady Curlin is a consistent mare who continues to improve for trainer Brad Cox.
The owner of a five-race winning streak from March through August, she scored her fourth stakes victory of last year in her most recent start.

In what was her biggest win of her career, the daughter of Curlin impressively took home the winner's prize in the Falls City (G2) at Churchill Downs in late November. It was a quality victory that points her out as a serious threat to her younger competition.

The Houston Ladies Classic field will be rounded out by Saracosa. Her credentials don't match the others, but most recently she ran to victory in the Bob Fortus Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds, upsetting Out for a Spin in the process.

In handicapping the field, Serengeti Empress is the one to beat in here with her class and controlling speed. If left alone, the deserving favorite will likely be extremely hard to beat
, but she should find some early pressure from Out for a Spin. If so, it opens the door for others to make a real run.

Expecting a mild upset, I'll tab Lady Apple as my top pick. I believe she fits with this group from a class perspective, and has the early speed to stay in touch under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.

I also see her recent sharp training over the racing surface at Sam Houston as an advantage. With Serengeti Empress a clear favorite, look for Lady Apple to offer solid value.

2020 Houston Ladies Classic (G3)


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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