by Jennie Rees
Corey Lanerie swept Ellis Park’s pair of 2-year-old stakes but in completely different fashion Sunday: Serengeti Empress led all the way to an electrifying 13 1/2-length blowout over the late-running Include Edition in the $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante. A race later, Tobacco Road wore down stablemate Whiskey Echo to take the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile by three-quarters of a length.
Lanerie won four races out of five mounts on the card to take the lead — 24-22 over Shaun Bridgmohan — in the jockey standings for the first time this meet, for which he missed the first six days following the death of his wife, Shantel.
“When I came back here, I didn’t know how well I would do after Shantel’s passing, just if people would give me back my mounts right away,” Lanerie said. “It’s been a blessing. I took off where I left, kind of kept on winning. My business didn’t seem to linger at all. Once I saw I had a little chance, I kind of made it a goal to try to do it and be leading rider for Shantel.”
Trainer Tom Amoss loved Serengeti Empress even before the 2-year-old filly won her first start by 5 1/2 lengths July 4 at Indiana Grand. He was extremely disappointed when the daughter of Alternation was fourth in Saratoga’s Grade 3 Schuylerville, a race in which Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano dropped the whip turning for home.
“We classified her as one of the best in the barn,” Amoss said by phone from New York after Serengeti Empress’ 13 1/2-length laugher over the late-running Include Edition in the $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante. “A big disappointment at Saratoga when Castellano dropped the stick on her and just quit riding her. I’ve never figured out what went wrong in that race. But she came back to show what she was today.”
Serengeti Empress rolled through testing fractions of 22.21 seconds for the first quarter-mile, 45.29 for the half and 1:09.66 for three-quarters of a mile before finishing the seven furlongs in 1:22.29. She paid $4.80 as the 7-5 favorite in the field of 11 two-year-old fillies.
“My filly broke really well right from the gate,” Lanerie said. “She was in hand pretty much all the way around there. When I got to the quarter pole, I kind of pushed the button and she went on and finished all the way to the wire. I had plenty left on the gallop-out. She was so far in front by herself that I think she was getting a little lost. I was keeping her busy. But she didn’t need any encouragement today. She was going to win.
“The sky’s the limit, I think. Tom has done a fantastic job with her, him and his team. I’m sure he’ll get her as far as he can go and do his best. She’s a good one.”
Vickie Foley, trainer of Alexis Harthill’s Include Edition, said she was “loving it,” seeing the fast pace. “But that filly didn’t come back at all,” she said wistfully. “She’s a runner.”
Include Edition trailed the field for half the race, having to come six-wide on the turn. She took second by 1 1/2 lengths over 107-1 shot Lucky Girasol, who won a $16,000 maiden-claiming race at Ellis Park July 29.
Said James Graham, rider Include Edition, who came from well back to win her debut July 15 at Ellis Park: “She tries. She’s just not that quick early. Like in her first race, you say, ‘Oh yeah, maybe a little green and stuff.’ Sent her away a little bit, couldn’t keep up. I tucked in, saved a little ground, made a huge run around the turn. I passed everybody and I looked up and Corey’s 15 in front!
“I think she’ll be better at two turns, and she’s in the growing stage. I like her, I like what she might be able to become. She got a little bit of an education. They were so bunched up in turn and said, ‘OK, I can’t wait and try to go on and hope to kick home.’ Because she’s not quick, she’s just steady. She ran her race, tried her butt off.”
Amoss bought Serengeti Empress for $70,000 for Joel Politi of Columbus, Ohio, at Keeneland’s 2017 September yearling sale. He said the filly will return to his Churchill Downs base and could be pointed for that track’s Grade 2, $200,000 Pocahontas Stakes, whose winner gets an automatic berth and entry fees paid in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 2, also at the Louisville track.
Asked what he liked about Serengeti Empress before she ran, Amoss said, “
“Super intelligent. Went through all of her drills without blinking an eye. I mean, every time we challenged her she was up to it. So when we made her first start with her, it was more because that’s where the maiden race (at Indiana Grand) appeared at that time. We wanted to go to Saratoga, which we kind of pushed that issue together because they were close together. Just happened to have a maiden race at Indiana Grand as opposed to Ellis, so that’s where we ended up.”
Rounding out the field were Shanghai Rain, Somewhere, Profound Legacy, Kristizar, Bivian B, Spice It Up, Wakeeta and La Coyota.
Corey Lanerie completed his sweep of the stakes by guiding Tobacco Road from eighth to a three-quarters of a length triumph over Whiskey Echo in the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile, with Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen training both horses. Manny Wah finished another head back in third in the field of 10 two-year-old colts and geldings.
“He had a completely different trip from the filly,” Lanerie said, referring to Serengeti Empress’ front-running 13 1/2-length romp over Include Edition in the $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante a race earlier. “He doesn’t have as much speed as she did. He broke really good, and then the speed just kind of ran away from him. I had to kind of keep him busy the first quarter of a mile. Once he found his stride around the turn, from the three-eighths to the quarter pole, I could tell I had a lot of horse. It was just trying to time it right and get him to the front at the right time.
“Actually at the quarter pole, I thought I had the two in front of me with ease. I hadn’t really asked my horse. I didn’t think the two in front, that they had that much. When I got to his (Whiskey Echo’s) hip, he proved me wrong. I got a little worried at the eighth pole. And then by the sixteenth pole I was kind of taking control and getting away from them.”
After three races, Tobacco Road has followed the identical path as Lookin At Lee, the 2017 Kentucky Derby runner-up ridden by Lanerie. Both horses are trained by Asmussen and owned by Lee Levinson’s L and N Racing. Both horses finished fifth at Churchill Downs in their first start, won at Ellis in their second and took the Ellis Park Juvenile in their third. Tobacco Road just now needs to run out $1.1 million and be at least second in a Triple Crown race to keep up the comparisons.
“It was a good day,” Levinson said by phone from Tulsa. “The comparisons continue. The best part was how he finished, because he was pulling away at the end. Boy, can you imagine at a distance? You never know but, boy, he sure looks like he’s got distance, doesn’t he?
“… When he came around the turn, you could just see him coming. He was catching them with every stride. We were pretty excited. We thought we had a great chance. But you never know, watching those races. How many times have you watched and they’re coming up like gangbusters and just stop?”
Mitch Dennison, Asmussen’s assistant trainer at Ellis Park, has had Tobacco Road in his care all summer and said the winner was showing a lot in his timed workouts in company.
“He’s very competitive and he always just has his ears up, is very happy and has kept very good weight,” he said.
Though the early pace (22.47, 45.66) was similar to what Serengeti Empress set in the Debutante, the boys finished much slower, with Tobacco Road wrapping up the seven furlongs in 1:23.99. after the six furlongs slowed down to 1:11.02. But there also was more competition for the lead, with Manny Wah and Whiskey Echo right up on the pace battling long shot S S. Trooper.
Whiskey Echo, the program favorite who went off second choice behind Tobacco Road, won his first start at Belmont Park and then was third in Saratoga’s Grade 3 Sanford Stakes. Asmussen said by phone that both colts will go to Churchill Downs and be considered for that track’s Grade 3, $150,000 Iroquois, whose winner receives an automatic berth and entry fees paid to the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 2 at the same track.
“They’re both really nice colts, obviously,” Asmussen said. “We felt good about our chances going in. Whiskey Echo off the third in the Sanford, I thought this was the perfect spot for him. And then when Tobacco Road ran so well there a couple of weeks ago, it was obvious to run him back at Ellis. But both colts ran well and handled more ground, and that’s kind of what it’s all about right now.”
Said Shaun Bridgmohan, rider of runner-up Whiskey Echo: “The horse tried really hard. He gave me what he had. The winner came on the outside and got us all. But me and Channing (Hill, on Manny Wah) were running right along. The winner just outgamed us today.”
Overanalyzer finished fourth, followed by Mine Inspector, S S Trooper, Shanghaied Roo, Pradar, Lady’s Weekend and Veritas.