Serengeti Empress Stands Out in Fair Grounds Oaks

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 19th, 2019

The Road to the Kentucky Oaks continues on Saturday with the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) at (where else?) Fair Grounds, a very productive race that has churned out four Kentucky Oaks winners since 2008.

All eyes will be on #2 Serengeti Empress in this 1 1/16-mile race, and deservedly so. Trained by Tom Asmoss, the daughter of Alternation is a three-time graded stakes winner and used her exceptional early speed to dominate the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. II) by 4 ½ lengths over this track and distance last month. As the fastest and most accomplished filly on paper, she’ll be tough to catch, especially when you consider what an advantage she has in terms of tactical speed. She’s posted five straight triple-digit BRIS E2 pace ratings, while her seven rivals have combined to post just three total.

You can make a case that Serengeti Empress might not be as effective when beaten to the lead, but she did break her maiden with a pace-tracking trip, and I believe her defeats in the Schuylerville Stakes (gr. III) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) had less to do with any disdain for racing off the lead and more to do with pace fractions and form cycles. She should face no such obstacles in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

As a result, I’m not inclined to play against Serengeti Empress in this spot, so instead I’ll look for horses to use underneath her in the exotics. #8 Liora, #6 Eres Tu, and #3 Street Band ran 2-3-4 behind Serengeti Empress in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes and should all be in contention again, with Street Band the one that interest me most. Trained by Larry Jones, who has won the Fair Grounds Oaks three times, Street Band made a solid middle move in the Rachel Alexandra, challenging Serengeti Empress for supremacy before weakening a bit in the homestretch. A better-timed run in the Fair Grounds Oaks could be all this two-time winner needs to turn the tables on Liora and Eres Tu.

#1 Speedette and #7 Slewgoodtobetrue are also interesting since they’re shipping in from California, where they’ve held their own against tougher company. That fact alone is enough to make them appealing, since the Fair Grounds Oaks isn’t a very deep race on paper. Speedette especially warrants respect since she’s switching from turf to dirt, a good move based on her pedigree, and hails from the barn of Keith Desormeaux, who tends to fare very well with his out-of-state shippers on the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks trails.

Here’s how I would play the race:

$5 exacta: 2 with 1,3 ($10) $2 trifecta: 2 with 1,3 with 1,3,4,6,7,8 ($20)

Good luck!