Why I'm opposing Serengeti Empress in the Acorn Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

June 5th, 2019

#1 Serengeti Empress is by far the most accomplished filly entered in Saturday’s $700,000 Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, but that doesn’t mean she’s the most likely winner.

The 3-year-old daughter of Alternation has three graded stakes wins under her belt and enters the one-mile Acorn off a gate-to-wire victory in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs, where she turned back a challenge from Liora in the homestretch to win going away.

But I have a couple of concerns.

Serengeti Empress has a history of inconsistency. She either wins or runs out of the money. Two starts back she bled in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and was eased across the wire. She has also yet to run particularly fast in terms of Beyer speed figures. With a career-best 89, and an 88 in the Kentucky Oaks, she’s technically slower than several of her Acorn Stakes rivals. Throw in the presence of several other frontrunners in the Acorn field, which should ensure a heated pace, and I think we have a recipe for an upset.

The obvious choice to beat Serengeti Empress is #7 Guarana, a well-bred filly trained by Chad Brown. The daughter of Ghostzapper debuted in a 6 1/2-furlong sprint at Keeneland on April 19 and absolutely obliterated her rivals. She set a quick pace and powered clear with ease to win by 14 3/4 lengths. Her 93 Beyer was solid, and she’ll carry just 115 pounds in the Acorn, eight less than Serengeti Empress.

But Guarana figures to face a tougher test on the front end this time, and it’s possible the sloppy, sealed track in her debut may have exaggerated her dominance. Can she repeat her 93 Beyer while stretching out in distance, stepping up in class and tackling a dry track for the first time?

I’m more intrigued by the California shipper #9 Ce Ce. She could get overlooked in the wagering thanks to her defeat in a 6 1/2-furlong optional-claiming allowance at Santa Anita Park last month, but keep in mind, she was facing older fillies and mares and lost by just a neck while posting a 97 Beyer. In her April debut she broke her maiden easily against fellow 3-year-olds, including the next-out winner Honeyfromthesouth.

Like Guarana, Ce Ce will carry 115 pounds in the Acorn Stakes, and drawing post 9 with a long run to the turn will afford jockey Victor Espinoza the opportunity to work out a clean trip rating behind the early leaders. If the pace is heated, Ce Ce can be the one to capitalize and come running in the homestretch.

Let’s bet Ce Ce to win and key her in the exacta and trifecta with Guarana:

$12 to win on #9 Ce Ce $3 exacta: 7,9 with 7,9 ($6) $1 trifecta: 7,9 with 7,9 with 2,4,8 ($6) $1 trifecta: 7,9 with 2,4,8 with 7,9 ($6)

Good luck!