LOUISVILLE, KY – Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress burst to the lead and took the field on a merry chase around the track, then dug in to repel Liora late to win Friday’s Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Breaking quickly from post 13 under Jose Ortiz at 13/1 odds, Serengeti Empress was able to clear her inside foes and cross over to secure position heading into the clubhouse turn. Motion Emotion tracked from second but didn’t apply pressure, allowing Serengeti Empress to run free and easy through opening fractions of :23.25, :46.65, and 1:11.26.
At the top of the stretch, Sereneti Empress came under a challenge from Liora to her outside, but Serengeti Empress dug in and shook her off. Clearing away late, the Tom Amoss trainee crossed with a 1 3/4-length advantage in a final time of 1:50.17 for the 1 1/8-mile event over the fast main track.
“She’s such a fast filly,” Ortiz said. “She took me to the front and she fought the entire way around there. I’m so thankful to Tom for allowing me to ride this filly. This is an incredible win.”
Though kept at bay by the eventual winner, Liora still finished 5 1/2 lengths ahead in second.
“Man, that was just heartbreaking,” said Liora’s jockey Channing Hill. “She ran so good. I thought we had it. That was an amazing race. (Trainer) Wayne (Catalano) had her so ready to run and we almost got there.”
Lady Apple necked out a late-gaining Champagne Anyone for third, while the 9/5 favorite Bellafina never found her best footing and finished a 1/2-length behind them in fifth.
“She broke a little slow but she always does,” Bellafina’s jockey Flavien Prat said. “In California, with a five-horse field, you are not that far back after (a slow) break. The break was not the issue. I thought I was in a good spot, but when it was time to fire, she just didn’t.”
Jaywalk crossed in sixth, with Street Band necking out Chocolate Kisses for seventh. Motion Emotion tired in the far turn and faded to ninth, with Jeltrin, Out for a Spin, Flor de La Mar, and Restless Rider completing the order of finish.
A scary moment occurred shortly after the break when Jaywalk crossed over directly in front of Positive Spirit to her inside, causing Positive Spirit to clip heels and fall. Both she and jockey Manny Franco were able to walk off the course without any apparent injuries.
“I clipped heels out of the gate,” Franco said. “I’m OK.”
After the race was complete, track stewards disqualified Jaywalk from sixth to 13th for the incident.
Dunbar Road and Point of Honor were both scratched as Also-Eligibles after not drawing into the race.
Serengeti Empress’ win was her fourth in a stakes race and improved her overall record to 8-5-0-0 with $1,037,120 earned. The 3-year-old daughter of Alternation bounced back tremendously after she bled in her last start, the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) on March 23, due to Amoss’ careful attentiveness as she resumed training.
“How about that!” Amoss said. “I’ve never won a race this big. I’ve won a lot of races, but not one like this. I’ve heard it said that when it happens, it’s just a different experience. Today, for me, it was just a rush of emotions. I thought about my mom and dad, who are 93 and 94. They’re at home watching. I know they saw this today. I can’t wait to speak to them. My wife and kids are here. I think, as a team, us four have seen quite a bit as a trainer has. They put up with a lot. I thought about the people along the way.”
Serengeti Empress returned $28 to win, $14.80 to place, and $9.60 to show. Liora brought back $32.60 to place and $17 to show, while Lady Apple paid $7 to show.