May 31, 2023

Serengeti Empress a solid favorite in Fair Grounds Oaks

Serengeti Empress wires the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds under jockey James Graham on February 16, 2019 (c) Hodges Photography/Amanda Hodges Weir

Stylishly rebounding from a disappointing Breeders’ Cup try in last month’s Rachel Alexandra (G2), Serengeti Empress figures to go off favored again in Saturday’s $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2). The 1 1/16-mile heat, which has had an outsized influence on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) over the past two decades, offers qualifying points to the Churchill Downs race of 100-40-20-10 to its top four finishers.

A filly who tends to do her best running when on the lead from the start, Serengeti Empress blew away her opposition in the Ellis Park Debutante and Pocahontas (G2) last year, but didn’t make the lead in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and wilted to seventh in the field of 10.

New rider James Graham sent Serengeti Empress to the front in the Rachel Alexandra, in which she started as the 19-10 favorite, and the daughter of Alternation drew away emphatically in the stretch after little pressure was applied early.

The second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers in the Rachel Alexandra — Golden Rod (G2) winner Liora, Eres Tu, and Street Band — are back to try Serengeti Empress again. Among the new shooters are two California-based fillies. Slewgoodtobetrue ships east off back-to-back wins at Santa Anita for Peter Eurton, while Speedette returns to dirt following a turf maiden win in her fifth lifetime start. The field is rounded out by Sweet Diane, who is  multiple stakes-placed in Florida, and the Louisiana-bred hopeful Crescentcitypretty, who was cross-entered in the Saturday’s Crescent City Oaks.

In other graded stakes action on Saturday:

*Synchrony will vie for a repeat victory in the $300,000 Muniz Memorial (G2) at about 1 1/8 miles on the turf, but will have to contend with Bricks and Mortar, who landed the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) at Gulfstream Park in late January. Also lining up are Inspector Lynley and Divisidero, recent one-two finishers in the Tampa Bay (G3).

*After a victory in last month’s Mineshaft H. (G3), Silver Dust seeks to make it two in a row in the $400,000 New Orleans H. (G2) at 1 1/8 miles. Also in the mix are Copper Bullet, a sharp second in the Razorback H. (G3) last month in his two-turn debut, and 2018 Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy, who makes his second start following a seven-month layoff.