Serengeti Empress proved in winning the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on Friday that when she’s on the lead, she’s tough to overtake.
“She just ran them off their feet,” a tired Tom Amoss, trainer of the winner of the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 race for 3-year-old fillies, said Saturday morning. “She took it to them at the starting gate, she just ran them into submission.”
The party celebrating the 1 ¾-length victory by Joel Politi’s filly, with Jose Ortiz riding, over Liora and rider Channing Hill, continued well into the night.
“I haven’t been up like that since I was in college, and I’m 57 years old,” said Amoss, on his way to getting some early Derby Day rest before the day’s races began.
The Kentucky-bred daughter of Alternation, out of the Bernardini mare Havisham, also was resting in her stall after finishing the Oaks in 1:50.17, on a track upgraded to fast following a muddy morning from overnight rain.
Her Oaks run proved to Amoss just what she’s capable of accomplishing.
“Even when Wayne’s filly (runner-up Liora, trained by Wayne Catalano) was getting to her at the eighth pole,” Amoss said, “and it looked like it was going to be a horse race, Serengeti caught her out of the corner of her eye. She took off again, no one was going to get by us.”
The 13-1 shot, sent off from the No. 13 post position, paid $28 to win.
Her fifth victory from eight lifetime starts was worth $705,250, making her a millionaire with earnings of $1,037,120. Amoss said there has been no decision on her next test.
“No plans have been made beyond this race,” Amoss said. “She’s going to get a well-deserved rest between races. What’s that mean? Probably nothing in May.”
Among the top races in early June is the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park on June 8, which was won in 2018 by last year’s Oaks winner, Monomoy Girl.
When Serengeti Empress bled in the March 23 Fair Grounds Oaks, Amoss wasn't sure what to expect from her going forward. But a bullet workout at Churchill Downs showed that it was an isolated incident.
“There were some sleepless nights,” he said. “I didn’t want to do anything to harm the filly, so I thought we did everything we possibly could to make that happen. I’m glad we were as transparent as we were, on social media, with what we were doing.”
Additionally, after nearly upsetting the Oaks at odds of 38-1, graded stakes winner Liora was reported to be doing “great” by Catalano, who was still singing the praises of his charge’s effort.
“She ran beautiful, she just got outrun,” Catalano said. “The horse that won beat us a couple of times now, but I thought I was going to win at one point in the race. We’re proud of her.”
Catalano added connections would take a look at possibly wheeling Liora back in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) at Pimlico Race Course on May 17.
“We’re going to see. We’re going to take a look at everything,” Catalano said.
The Rodolphe Brisset-trained Positive Spirit has recovered from her spill at the beginning of the Oaks in good order. The Demoiselle (G2) winner was caught by outriders before the first turn.
“She’s OK,” Brisset said. “She is sound and that’s what’s important. She will more than likely jog tomorrow if all goes well.”