Serengeti Empress Wins Kentucky Oaks After Positive Spirit Falls at Start

Posted on: May 3, 2019, 03:30h. 

Last updated on: May 3, 2019, 05:50h.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Serengeti Empress led wire-to-wire to claim the 145th Kentucky Oaks Friday at Churchill Downs, holding off 38-1 shot Liora down the stretch to win by a length and three-quarters.

Serengeti Empress crosses the finish line Friday to win the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs ahead of Liora. She led wire-to-wire in the 1-1/8th mile Grade I stakes race. (Image: Tom Amoss Racing Stable)

The Grade I stakes race for 3-year-old fillies was marred at the start after Positive Spirit, starting from the sixth gate, was bumped by both Jaywalk and Flor de La Mar and tumbled to the dirt. Manny Franco was thrown off the horse.

Jaywalk, who finished sixth, was later disqualified for her role in the collision. The stewards’ decision bumped her to 13th in the 14-horse field.

Serengeti Empress went off at 13-1 after finishing last in her most recent race, the Fair Grounds Oaks on March 23. The 3-year-old was ridden for the first time Friday by Jose Ortiz and finished the 1-1/8th-mile race in 1:50.17.

It marked the first Oaks victory for trainer Tom Amoss, a 42-year industry veteran and one of the winningest trainers of all-time.

I have never won a race this big in my life, and I have been training since 1987,” Amoss said. “I’ve won a lot of races, but not one like this. And I have heard it said that when it happens, it’s just a different experience.

“Today, for me, it was a rush of emotions.”

Serengeti Empress paid $28 to win, $14.80 to place and $9.60 to show. Liora paid $32.60 and $17. Lady Apple, who finished more than seven lengths back, paid $7. The $2 exacta paid $878.40. A 50-cent trifecta paid $3,510.90.

With Champagne Anyone finishing fourth, the superfecta paid $67,080.40

Positive Spirit OK

Dr. Alan Ruggles, an on-call veterinarian with the American Association of Equine Practitioners, told reporters shortly after the race that it appeared the Positive Spirit’s injuries were limited to just soft tissue. However, her connection’s veterinarian would likely do a follow-up examination soon.

“The good news is there didn’t appear to be any significant problems with her,” Ruggles said. “All the reports as she walked off the track were very positive.”

In the collision, Positive Spirit appeared to have her back hoof hit her front, causing her to lose her balance.

After unseating Franco, Positive Spirit continued to run on her own, but track outriders were able to corral her. She walked back to her barn under her own power.

Franco appeared to be unhurt as well.

“I clipped heels out of the gate,” Franco said. “I’m OK.”

Transparency Important

Positive Spirit’s fall comes at a time when renewed attention is being paid to horse safety. Nearly two dozen equine deaths have occurred at California’s Santa Anita alone since late December.

In wake of those incidents, Santa Anita, Churchill Downs and tracks across the country have come together to push for new standards. Those include reducing and eventually eliminating race-day medications.

Amoss said he welcomed the proposed reforms and urged transparency. After Serengeti Empress finished seventh in the Fair Grounds Oaks, Amoss disclosed the filly suffered a bleeding episode that caused her to be stopped.

In the weeks since, he continued providing updates on her through his stable’s Facebook page, noting how she fared after workouts. It’s all part of a “new world of racing,” he said.

“Look it’s now secret that our industry is facing at least what I consider a moment, a big moment, that can go one of two ways,” he added. “And as far as I’m concerned, with my horses and the racing public as well as the general public, I want to give as much information as I can out there. I want everyone to know what I’m doing, why I’m doing it.”