Serengeti Empress Sparkles in Pocahontas, Cairo Cat Strikes in Iroquois

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Serengeti Empress dominated the opposition on Saturday at Churchill Downs in the Pocahontas Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress followed one dominating effort with another on Sept. 15 at Churchill Downs.

Less than a month after she romped by 13 1/2 lengths in the Ellis Park Debutante, the 2-year-old Alternation filly was even more impressive in the Grade 2, $200,000 Pocahontas Stakes.

After a good break from the rail under jockey Corey Lanerie, Serengeti Empress quickly went to the lead and set quarter-mile fractions of :23.17, :46.94, and 1:12.20 through six furlongs.

At that point, the dark bay had built her lead to two lengths and it only got wider as she came out of the second turn. As the rest of the field toiled behind, Serengeti Empress cruised on the front and pulled away effortlessly. At the eighth pole, she was eight lengths in front. At the finish line, the margin was 19 1/2, and she finished off the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.47.

“When you have a horse like this, it’s easy to be the passenger,” Lanerie said. “It’s a credit to [winning trainer] Tom [Amoss] and his team, because this filly has done everything right. When I came back and saw the fractions and how quick we went up front, I really couldn’t believe it. That’s when you know you’re sitting on a good horse — when they can travel as quickly as they do without you realizing it.”

The battle for second was won by Southern California shipper Splashy Kisses, who came in 1 1/2 lengths ahead of longshot Lightscameraaction.

“She ran dynamite [to break her maiden] at Del Mar, so I thought we’d give her a try in this spot,” said Splashy Kisses’ trainer, Doug O’Neill. “We just ran into an unbelievably gifted filly. I’m proud of how our horse handled everything today.”

After the victory in the Pocahontas, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race for the Grade 1 Titos Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Amoss looked ahead at his filly’s toughest test yet.

“She’s such a pro with how she handles things in training,” Amoss said. “We’ll just let her be her until the Breeders’ Cup [Juvenile Fillies] and I think we’ll be just fine.”

Cairo Cat Pounces Late in Iroquois

Cairo Cat rallied to win the Iroquois Stakes on Saturday at Churchill Downs. (Eclipse Sportswire)

For a moment during the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes, it appeared Walking L Thoroughbreds’ Cairo Cat wouldn’t get the chance to show his best.

With favored Tight Ten clear on the front and Cairo Cat locked in on the rail in tight quarters Sept. 15, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. finally got the 2-year-old Cairo Prince colt out into the clear, and he was able to reach his best stride.

Off the rail and on the outside in the final sixteenth of the 1 1/16-mile dirt test at Churchill Downs, the Ken McPeek-trained Cairo Cat surged by the front-running Tight Ten late to win by a half-length.

“This was my first time I was on him and I thought to myself how smooth he was going,” Hernandez said of the stalking trip in fifth, as Tight Ten was pressured by My Sixth Sense through quarter-mile fractions of :24.03, :48.74, and 1:14.06. “He traveled well the whole way around. He certainly didn’t travel like he was a 2-year-old. It’s easy to put in those type of rides with a horse that has that much confidence to put himself in spots like that.”

Off at 11-10 odds in the 12-horse field, Tight Ten put away all but one challenger in the stretch, and had a 1 1/2-length lead with an eighth of a mile to run before 17-1 Cairo Cat spurted by to finish off the distance in 1:45.35.

“My horse ran well going around two turns for the first time,” said jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., who rode Tight Ten to a second-place finish last time out in the Aug. 12 Saratoga Special Stakes. “I thought we were going to get there.”

The Grade 3 victory came just more than a month after Cairo Cat won a seven-furlong maiden special weight washed off the turf at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 11, and made him the first stakes winner for Airdrie Stud stallion Cairo Prince.

“This is a really nice colt,” said McPeek’s assistant, Greg Geier. “Kenny told me after he broke his maiden to try the Iroquois and here we are. He worked really well last week. We’ll see how he comes out of things but it’s nice the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is right here in our backyard.”

The Iroquois is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, guaranteeing Cairo Cat a starting spot in the race on Nov. 2.—Jeremy Balan

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