By Ryan Martin, Fair Grounds Media Team:
In their final local opportunity to garner points on Churchill Downs’ Road To The Kentucky Oaks, eight fillies are scheduled to line up for Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks Presented by Twinspires.com.
The Fair Grounds Oaks awards the Top 4 finishers points based off of a 100-40-20-10 scale and has been known to produce numerous eventual winners of the Grade I $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks. Notable fillies to capture the Fair Grounds Oaks-Kentucky Oaks double include the likes of Untapable (2014), Believe You Can (2012), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Proud Spell (2008), Summerly (2005), Ashado (2004), Silverbulletday (1999) and Blushing K.D. (1997).
Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress heads the field of sophomore fillies after an impressive 7¼-length victory in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes in her 3-year-old debut and will look to mimic that effort on Saturday. The daughter of Alternation will attempt to give trainer Tom Amoss his second consecutive win in the Fair Grounds Oaks after the New Orleans native conditioner took last year’s edition with Chocolate Martini. Serengeti Empress has two graded stakes triumphs on her resume. As a 2-year-old, she won the Grade II Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs by an astonishing 19½ lengths, which was two starts prior to her win in the Rachel Alexandra. She earned a total of 60 points with both of said victories and is currently No.1 on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard. Serengeti Empress will break from post two under jockey James Graham and has been made the 6-5 morning line favorite by Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots odds maker Mike Diliberto.
The second, third, and fourth place finishers of the Rachel Alexandra have returned for a shot to turn the tables on Serengeti Empress. Runner-up behind the Fair Grounds Oaks favorite last out was Liora, who seeks her first victory since a 29-1 upset in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs on November 24. The daughter of Candy Ride (Arg.) will look to give the owner-trainer combination of Coffeepot Stables and Wayne Catalano their second Fair Grounds Oaks victory after winning the race two years ago with Farrell. Liora broke her maiden at third asking over a fast main track at Churchill Downs, which she won by nine lengths. Currently No. 7 on the Leaderboard with 31 points, Liora will be guided by regular rider Channing Hill and breaks from the eight hole at 5-1 odds.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has saddled three Fair Grounds Oaks winners in the past with Untapable (2014), Summerly (2005) and Lady Tak (2003) and will go for his fourth win in the race with Edward Seltzer and Beverly Anderson’s Eres Tu (No. 13 on the Leaderboard with 14 points). Third behind Serengeti Empress in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, the daughter of Malibu Moon is still seeking a victory against winners. Eres Tu broke her maiden over the New Orleans oval on November 22 before finishing fourth in a first level allowance race on December 21. Prior to her third-place finish in the Rachel Alexandra, she ran second at 31-1 odds in the Silverbulletday Stakes behind Needs Supervision. She will be guided by jockey Jose Ortiz from post six at 6-1 odds.
Like Asmussen, trainer Larry Jones also will seek his fourth Fair Grounds Oaks victory when he sends out Rachel Alexandra fourth-place finisher Street Band, who breaks from post three at 8-1 odds with jockey Sophie Doyle up. The daughter of Istan will look to join eventual Kentucky Oaks winners Proud Spell and Believe You Can as well as I’m a Chatterbox (2015) as Fair Grounds Oaks winners trained by Jones. Street Band has run more times than any filly in the Fair Grounds Oaks field having made a total of seven starts in her career, which include an Ellis Park maiden victory at second asking back in September as well as a triumph against winners over the Fair Grounds main track two starts ago. She is owned by Jones and his wife Cindy in partnership with Ray Francis.
Shipping from Southern California for trainer Peter Eurton is Slewgoodtobetrue who enters the Fair Grounds Oaks off of two victories over the main track at Santa Anita. Owned by Ciaglia Racing, Sharon Alesia, Burns Racing and ERJ Racing, the daughter of Jimmy Creed broker her maiden third time out by four legnths before a 1½ length triumph against winners over a sloppy main track at the Arcadia oval on February 3. Slewgoodtobetrue is bred in South Carolina and will look to become the first horse bred in the Palmetto State to win a graded stakes race. She will be guided by jockey Florent Geroux from post seven at 8-1 odds.
Calumet Farm’s Speedette (post one, Corey Lanerie, 10-1) also ships from Southern California for the Fair Grounds Oaks. The Keith Desormeaux-trained daughter of Oxbow broke her maiden at fifth asking last time out over the turf at Santa Anita on January 21 in gate-to-wire fashion. Bred by her owners in partnership with Merrill and Dana Allene, she is out of the Afleet Express broodmare Expressive Story who is a half sibling to graded stakes placed Res Ipsa.
Stallionaire Enterprises’ Sweet Diane (post four, Joe Bravo, 8-1) has maintained a consistent record in her four career start having never finished off the board and will look to carry that into her graded stakes debut in the Fair Grounds Oaks. The well-traveled daughter of Will Take Charge has raced over four different tracks including a 13¾-length maiden victory at Penn National at second asking for trainer Michael Stidham. In her only two stakes efforts she was second beaten a neck in Gulfstream Park’s Hut Hut Stakes in December and made her 3-year-old debut in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, where she was third.
Brittlyn Stables’ Crescentcitypretty (post five, Miguel Mena, 15-1) is cross-entered in the Fair Grounds Oaks and the $75,000 Crescent City Oaks on the undercard. Making her debut for the barn of Tyron Benoit, the daughter of Bernardini has made all three of her career starts at Delta Downs and won her career debut by 6 ¼ lengths for former conditioner Jose Camejo. Third in the Louisiana Premier Night Starlet Stakes two starts back, she was a last out winner of the Azaela Stakes at the Vinton oval on March 1.
The Fair Grounds Oaks (4:44 p.m. CT) is carded as the 12th of 13 races on Saturday, March 23 and is also the penultimate leg of a $500,000 Guaranteed All Stakes Pick 4, which kicks off in the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (Race 10, 3:34 p.m. CT). First post on Louisiana Derby day is 11:00 a.m. CT.