'Bigger and stronger' Serengeti Empress on to final Oaks prep

Trainer tom Amoss reported Sunday that his respective Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) and Risen Star Stakes (G2) runners, Serengeti Empress and Roiland, are in good shape and the goal is to have them prepared for their next starts on the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby 2019 trail following their big efforts Saturday.

Both horses will point to Fair Grounds’ March 23 card, which features the Grade 2, $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks at 1 1/16 miles and the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby at 1 1/8 miles.

The Rachel Alexandra was the 3-year-old debut for Serengeti Empress, who led every step of a 4 ½-length victory with jockey James Graham. At 2 she won the Ellis Park Debutante by 13 ½ lengths and Churchill Downs’ Pocahontas (G2) by 19 ½ lengths. She faded in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and finished seventh. 

“She had a tough trip in the Breeders’ Cup back in November,” Amoss said. “She got bounced around the first turn. I think it really shook her confidence when that happened. Yesterday at the Fair Grounds, I think she really told the horse racing world that she’s a good 3-year-old filly, so I was really proud of her.”

Serengeti Empress received a break from training following the Breeders’ Cup and only had three registered works heading into the Rachel Alexandra.

“Physically, she’s a bigger and stronger horse than she was in 2018, her 2-year-old year, so that’s the first thing,” Amoss said of her return this year. “And she had an extensive campaign as a 2-year-old filly, so I think mentally the break was a good one for her.

“There’s always that question with a precocious 2-year-old, which she certainly fit into that category, will they be able to come back at 3 and face more mature and, quite honestly, better route mares than what they faced, or route fillies than what they faced at 2, and I think that she’s certainly up to the task.”

Amoss believes Serengeti Empress is one of the best horses he’s had the opportunity to train. He found the filly for Joel Politi at the 2017 Keeneland September Sale, where she sold for $70,000 in the auction ring. The daughter of Alternation now has four wins from six career starts and has earned $327,870.

She also has a total of 60 points on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard, essentially guaranteeing her a spot in the race.

“It’s very gratifying to find a horse like her, pay below market value for her and watch her do well for Joel and for myself,” Amoss said.

While Serengeti Empress was the 9-5 favorite in the Rachel Alexandra, Roiland went off at 69-1 in the Risen Star and rallied from last under Graham to finish third behind War of Will and Country House.

The Risen Star was his third consecutive race in graded company and his first stakes placing. The James and Mary Durlacher’s homebred faced later stakes runners early in his career. After a first in second at Indiana Grand, he won an allowance optional claiming race at Churchill Downs over Limonite, Everfast and Owendale. 

Roiland wrapped up his 2-year-old season when fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and finished seventh in the Lecomte (G3) for his sophomore debut. Amoss expected a big effort from Roiland in the Lecomte, but the Successful Appeal colt saved his late kick for the Risen Star.

“He’s been a more difficult horse to develop as a trainer,” Amoss said. “I really thought that race was going to come in the Lecomte and I said that probably in a couple of different places. When it didn’t happen in the Lecomte and he just ran kind of a race where he just picked up a couple pieces from last to seventh – you can’t rush a horse’s mental development.”

Roiland has broken slow in his last few starts. He did the same in the Risen Star, but he showed promise when rushing late on the outside.

“He probably wasn’t any better out of the gate yesterday than he has been,” Amoss added. “I think mentally he was more right for the race yesterday. Although we got to see very little of his race because he really wasn’t in the picture until late, I liked his close against the winner and the second place horse, recognizing that the races are going to be going further in distance between now and the end of the spring.”

The Louisiana Derby is an extra sixteenth of a mile longer than the Risen Star. The final Derby prep at Fair Grounds will offer points on a 100-40-20-10 scale.

“With Roiland, we recognize that we’re going to get one chance between now and the Kentucky Derby to try to get some points,” Amoss said. “We got 10 yesterday, so we want to make sure that what race we choose – and we really want to be right here in his backyard in the Louisiana Derby – we want to make sure that it has at least on paper the proper kind of setup to help his late run going a mile and an eighth.”

 

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