It’s a simple question—will anyone defeat #1 Serengeti Empress in Saturday’s $200,000 Pocahontas Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs?
In my opinion, the answer is pretty simple as well—no. No one will defeat Serengeti Empress.
Okay, maybe that statement is a little bit bold, but consider it a concise way of stating that I really like the chances of Serengeti Empress in the Pocahontas Stakes, which serves as a “Win and You’re In” prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and also the first official prep race on the 2018-19 Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
Trained by Tom Amoss, Serengeti Empress debuted on July 4th at Indiana Grand, where she flashed plenty of early speed on her way to a decisive 5 ½-length romp in a maiden special weight. Subsequently sent to Saratoga to contest the Schuylerville Stakes (gr. III), Serengeti Empress got caught up in an intense duel for the lead with eventual winner Catherinethegreat, but held on reasonably well through the homestretch to finish fourth in a large field.
Serengeti Empress finally encountered a reasonable (though still quick) pace in the seven-furlong Ellis Park Debutante Stakes on August 19th, and the result was eye-catching. After seizing the lead through fractions of :22.21 and :45.29, Serengeti Empress powered away from her ten rivals in the homestretch, drawing off to win by 13 ½ lengths while stopping the clock in a quick 1:22.29.
That final time yielded speed figures of 84 (Beyer) and 98 (BRIS), which tower over the figures posted by the other Pocahontas entrants. Assuming that Serengeti Empress breaks alertly from her rail draw, she should have every opportunity to save ground and dominate this race in gate-to-wire fashion, even while stretching out around two turns for the first time.
As for the rest, #5 Splashy Kisses looms as one of the main players while shipping in from California for the high-profile team of trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Drayden Van Dyke. The daughter of Blame never challenged in her debut on opening day at Del Mar, but came back a month later to break her maiden by 5 ¾ lengths with a 77 Beyer and a 90 BRIS, establishing herself as the second-fastest horse on paper and the second choice on the morning line.
#6 Lightscameraaction was never a factor in two starts sprinting on dirt this spring, but she’s shown significant improvement since trainer Kenny McPeek switched her to turf and stretched her out in distance, most recently finishing second in the Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies Stakes. At 20-1 on the morning line, I think she’s worth including in case her improvement was more the result of experience and stretching out than the surface switch. I’ll also use #10 Taylor’s Spirit, an unbeaten two-time stakes winner coming off a win going a mile on turf at Louisiana Downs.
Here’s how I would play the race: