Breeders' Cup Hopeful Serengeti Empress a Gift That Keeps Giving

Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress is headed for the Breeders' Cup.
Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress is headed for the Breeders' Cup. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Trainer Tom Amoss never imagined the powerful role Serengeti Empress would play in his life, even helping him to grieve.

It all began with Joel Politi, an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio, asking Amoss to do whatever he could to purchase a yearling filly for him at a modest price at the 2017 Keeneland September sale. And that is when the daughter of Alternation entered their world.

Alternation had never won a Grade 1 race, a huge mark against him as a sire and therefore a huge mark against his filly. But as Amoss said, “I like going to sales and looking beyond the sire.”

Serengeti Empress filled his eye.

“The two things that really caught my attention were her shoulder and her hip, her engine as I like to call it,” the trainer said. “Those two things just matched up very well, and she had the look of an athlete.”

Serengeti Empress at Churchill Downs
Serengeti Empress at Churchill Downs (Eclipse Sportswire)

Given his limited budget, she was everything Politi could have hoped for.

“She passed all of the eye tests,” he noted, “and her catalogue page allowed us to get her for the bargain price that we did.”

Amoss, a trainer since 1987 who has built a reputation for possessing a keen eye at sales, was delighted to be able to purchase her for $70,000 on behalf of Politi.

Serengeti Empress made a winning debut as a 2-year-old last year and showed promise throughout her initial campaign despite finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She has been a force as a 3-year-old, leading throughout in a rousing triumph in the Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks for jockey Jose Ortiz before placing second in two more prestigious races, the one-mile Acorn Stakes on June 8 at Belmont Park and the seven-furlong Longines Test Stakes on Aug. 3 at Saratoga Race Course.

Amoss had taken two previous cracks at the Oaks, with Venus Valentine (12th, 2016) and with Chocolate Martini (5th, 2018). To break through was huge.

“In winning the Kentucky Oaks, she presented so many gifts to me and my family, certainly a status among my fellow trainers that I’ve never had before,” said Amoss. “That was a huge gift. When it is all said and done, this will be the signature win I’m remembered by, which I’m totally fine with and proud of.”

It meant everything to Amoss that his parents, both 95, were able to watch Serengeti Empress establish an immediate lead as she carried the hopes and dreams of their son and never look back. Understanding what it meant to them meant everything to Amoss, whose mother, Berthe, died peacefully in her sleep in early October.

“I got to do it while she was alive and had all of her faculties as does my dad, and they got to witness it,” Amoss said.

Serengeti Empress, who fell victim to a brutal pace when she finished a disappointing sixth in the Sept. 21 Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing, will be cross entered in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Everything points to her starting in the 1 1/8-mile Distaff on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park in her first test against older company.

“Although the field is very, very good and we’re facing a potential Horse of the Year candidate in Midnight Bisou, we’ll take that chance in a field where we think we can control the pace,” Amoss said.

Serengeti Empress knows only one way to go, and that is with the pedal to the metal.

“We’re a need-the-lead horse,” Politi said. “If we can get out there and get the lead, then maybe we can do something. She’s got a lot to prove to get up to the level of 4- and 5-year-olds, but she’s kind of earned her way in.”

Serengeti Empress’ demeanor makes her a joy to be around. She seems to recognize her status as something special.

“Since she won the Kentucky Oaks, she’s become really popular for people to come and visit. It has really developed her personality,” Amoss said. “She enjoys people, which not all horses do, and she enjoys attention. And you’d better bring a peppermint, that’s all I can tell you. Because if you don’t, she’ll be calling for it until you get her one.”

Politi can only hope his father, Jacques, who died 10 years ago, was able to savor the Oaks. Politi developed a love of racing through his father, who regularly took him to the track and would drive an hour to purchase the Daily Racing Form in preparation for those visits.

“Winning the Oaks has been a great experience. Winning at the Breeders’ Cup would be more than the cherry on top because it’s the championship of older horses,” Politi said. “I can’t even imagine how I would feel.”

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