SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – After blazing early opening fractions on the front end, Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress was all heart in the stretch to hold off all challengers and win Saturday’s $300,000 Ballerina Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) at Saratoga.

The Ballerina is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Serengeti Empress receiving an automatic berth in the Filly & Mare Sprint at Keeneland this November.

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Though she was a step slow breaking from the rail under Luis Saez as the 3/1 second choice on the tote, Serengeti Empress quickly recovered and challenged inside of Letruska for the early lead.

The fillies burned fast early, posting opening fractions of :21.75 and :43.74 down the backstretch and through the far turn. Letruska attempted to take the lead at the top of the stretch, but her bid soon faltered.

Meanwhile, Serengeti Empress ignited her boosters and fought back against new challenges from the 5/2 favorite Bellafina to her outside and Victim of Love along the rail.

Putting her heart on full display, Serengeti Empress had more than enough left to rebuff her rivals and win by a length. The Tom Amoss trainee completed the 7-furlong fast dirt sprint in a final time of 1:21.63.

Credit: NYRA / Joe Labozzetta

“The first jump, she was not that fast, but I asked her a little and she put me in that position,” Saez said. “I know she was rolling. She was going pretty fast. When we came to the stretch, she was just waiting for the competition, and when the horse came outside, she was fighting. She was really running.”

Though denied from victory, Bellafina was 1 1/2 lengths better than Victim of Love, who fell flat in the stretch and just held off the defending champion Come Dancing by a 1/2-length to save third.

A tired Letruska outfinished Pink Sands and Cookie Dough to complete the order of finish.

Serengeti Empress’ win was her second of the year following the Azeri Stakes (G2) and improved her overall record to 17-7-3-1 with $1,907,653 earned. The 4-year-old Alternation filly was second, beaten a head, in last year’s Test Stakes (G1) over this course and distance behind the eventual Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) champion Covfefe.

Third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Longines Distaff (G1), she is now officially heading back to the World Championships, albeit with her sights set on a different goal.

“You know, if you’re a handicapper and you paid attention to last year’s Test, when she got beat a head to Covfefe who ended up being a champion, you knew that 7/8 (of a mile) had a real chance at being exactly what she wanted,” Amoss said. “I look forward to staying at the 7/8 distance, maybe getting one more start in her before the Breeders’ Cup.”

Serengeti Empress returned $8.30 to win, $4.70 to place, and $3.80 to show. Bellafina brought back $4.30 to place and $3.10 to show, while Victim of Love paid $5.50 to show.