Ellis Park Debutante romper Serengeti Empress took the class hike, stretch-out, and venue change in stride to produce another shellacking in Saturday’s $200,000 Pocahontas (G2) at Churchill Downs. The 4-5 favorite took early control and widened her margin to a stakes-record 19 1/2 lengths, locking up a free berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and the first 10 points toward the 2019 Kentucky Oaks (G1).
The significant pointer to her Ellis Park performance was her time versus that of the boys, and the Pocahontas provides another comparative exercise for the Tom Amoss filly. Rolling from the rail for Corey Lanerie, Serengeti Empress set a considerably faster pace than the colts in the Iroquois (G3) one race earlier. While beaten Iroquois favorite Tight Ten got away with fractions of :24.03, :48.74, and 1:14.06, Serengeti Empress reeled off splits of :23.17, :46.94, and 1:12.20.
The times began to converge at the mile mark, with Serengeti Empress coasting to 1:38.37 as Tight Ten was digging in to 1:38.94. The Iroquois picked up late, thanks to Cairo Cat’s smart rally to mug Tight Ten in 1:45.35. Serengeti Empress had no such rival able to stay within the same zip code, putting her late stroll to 1:45.47 into perspective. She’d run them off their feet and basked the rest of the way, recording the largest margin in a Churchill stakes since Rachel Alexandra annihilated them by 20 1/4 lengths in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks.
California shipper Splashy Kisses “won” the race within a race, so to speak, by churning to runner-up honors by 1 1/2 lengths from Lightscameraaction. My Wynter Rose, the 106-1 longest shot on the board, got up to round out the superfecta. The second through fourth earned Oaks points on the 4-2-1 sliding scale.
Campaigned by Joel Politi, Serengeti Empress advanced her scorecard to 4-3-0-0, $187,870. The Indiana Grand maiden winner was fourth in Saratoga’s Schuylerville (G3) before her breakout at Ellis Park, and she’s now won her past two by 33 lengths combined.
Bred by Tri Eques Bloodstock in Kentucky, Serengeti Empress fetched just $25,000 as a weanling at Keeneland November before going to her current connections for $70,000 as a September yearling. The daughter of Alternation is the first registered foal from the unraced Bernardini mare Havisham, from an Argentine family.
Quotes from Churchill Downs
Winning trainer Tom Amoss: “We are very excited about this filly, and for obvious reasons. We know we have a nice filly and it’s great that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies is in our backyard. She’s such a pro with how she handles things in training. We’ll just let her be her until the Breeders’ Cup and I think we’ll be just fine.”
Winning rider Corey Lanerie: “When you have a horse like this, it’s easy to be the passenger. It’s a credit to Tom and his team because this filly has done everything right. When I came back and saw the fractions and how quick we went up front I really couldn’t believe it. That’s when you know you’re sitting on a good horse – when they can travel as quickly as they do without you realizing it.”
Winning owner Joel Politi: “I’ve been coming to the races since I was 5-years-old and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s incredible. We’re going to ride it as far as we can. I have to give Tom and his team all the credit – this race was just simply mind boggling.”
Doug O’Neill, trainer of runner-up Splashy Kisses: “She ran dynamite at Del Mar so I thought we’d give her a try in this spot. We just ran into an unbelievably gifted filly. I’m proud of how our horse handled everything today.”
Robby Albarado, who rode third-placer Lightscameraaction: “There was no catching the winner. That was unbelievable.”