February 2, 2023

Bell’s the One edges Serengeti Empress in thrilling Derby City Distaff

Bell's The One
Bell's The One (left), with Corey Lanerie up, wins the Derby City Distaff (G1) over Serengeti Empress in a photo finish at Churchill Downs (Jamie Newell/TwinSpires)

Bell’s the One launched her bid on the far turn, reached even terms with pacesetter Serengeti Empress in deep stretch, and won a head-bobbing nose decision in Saturday’s $500,000 Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs.

Owned by Bob Lothenbach and trained by Neil Pessin, Bell’s the One earned her first Grade 1 tally, and fifth overall stakes victory, when completing 7 furlongs in 1:21.07. Corey Lanerie was up on the 4-1 fourth choice.

Serengeti Empress, the 2019 Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine and a superb winner of the Aug. 8 Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga, sped away from the starting gate and after sparring with Bellafina through an opening quarter-mile in :21.95, she whipped through a half-mile in :43.77 while edging away from her nearest challengers.

Bell’s the One rated about eight lengths back in sixth during the early stages and began to advance into contention while wide on the far turn. Serengeti Empress was still going strong in upper stretch, reaching the 6-furlong mark in 1:08.15, but Bell’s the One was closing fast on the outside. She caught the pacesetter with about a sixteenth of a mile remaining, but Serengeti Empress dug in gamely when challenged.

The duo hooked up in an exciting duel to the wire and it took a photo finish to determine the outcome, with Bell’s the One winning by the slimmest of margins.

“When I was three or four lengths behind them, I was pretty confident that I was going to run by them pretty easy, but it wasn’t so easy,” Lanerie said. “Serengeti Empress fought back. I actually thought she had gotten the bob.”

“That was an unbelievable horse race,” Pessin added. “Tom Amoss (trainer of Serengeti Empress) and I actually joked before the photo came out that we would take a dead heat. This filly had a great trip once again with Corey. He fits this filly so well. She sat behind that really fast pace and was so impressive. I’m so proud of her and so thankful for the owners.”

Serengeti Empress, the 9-5 favorite, wound up three lengths clear of the late-running Sally’s Curlin in third. Next came Ce Ce, Wildwood’s Beauty, Bellafina, and Shesomajestic.

Bell’s the One was exiting a third in the July 11 Madison (G1) at Keeneland. She captured the May 30 Winning Colors (G3) at Churchill Downs two starts previously, and earned her first graded victory when taking the Raven Run (G2) at Keeneland last fall. The bay daughter of Majesticperfection has now earned $790,040 from a 14-7-2-1 record.

Bred in Kentucky by Bret Jones, Bell’s the One is out of the Street Cry mare Street Mate, a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Tap Day. She was purchased by her connections for $155,000 as a yearling at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale.