THE EMPRESS WAS CROWNED AT THE OAKS
There are times in our life when we are able to see some greatness. That time is the here and now for Thoroughbred trainer Tom Amoss, but it almost wasn’t.
A veteran of the game that has done one thing or another in the Thoroughbred world for over 40 years, it goes without saying the New Orleans native has been around the block. With over 3200 career wins as a trainer, Amoss has been no stranger to the winner’s circle. Training titles at the Fair Grounds, Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, and Kentucky Downs have made him a recognizable presence in the sport. On May 3, 2019, his name was added to a historic list thanks to a really talented athlete.
Serengeti Empress ascended to the throne as ruler of the Kentucky Oaks with a dominant score in this signature race for three-year old fillies. Leading gate to wire in a rather dominating fashion, this daughter of Alternation guided a field of fourteen while answering challenges early and late. Breaking from post 13, the Empress knew where she needed to be and bolted to the front of a talented pack. Rolling through a very solid opening quarter mile (23.35) and quick half mile (46.65), Amoss was not concerned about the pace as he knows what kind of talent she has.
“My wife thought it was too quick in the first half mile, but I told her when she’s right it’s not too fast for her,” says Amoss. “She’s a tremendous athlete that has a lot of talent. I knew (jockey) Jose (Ortiz) had a lot of horse underneath him.”
Rolling through the far turn, Serengeti Empress repelled the challenge of a charging Liora and bolted to the finish. Covering the mile and an eighth in 1:50.17, Amoss gained his biggest win thanks to one fast and front-running filly. But if we rewind to March 23 , the thoughts of a Kentucky Oaks coronation were no where to be found.
After three very impressive wins in five starts as a two-year old, Amoss did his customary thing and took his horses to the home base at the Fair Grounds. A romp in the Rachel Alexandra on February 19 opened some eyes as to the talent the trainer had already seen. Looking to continue her march to the throne, the Empress ran in the Fair Grounds Oaks about 4 weeks later. Going off as a heavy favorite, the speedy Joel Politi owned runner bolted to the lead but faded to finish seventh. Bleeding out her nose, Serengeti Empress was vanned off the track as a precautionary measure and the Amoss world was turned upside down.
“We were always going to do what was right for the horse and any thoughts of the Kentucky Oaks were on hold,” says Amoss. “She was never injured, she just had the bleeding issue. We wanted to be transparent about everything and didn’t want to make a call until we knew she was going to be okay to run and was not going to have another episode.”
Patiently nurturing his prize, Amoss settled her in at Churchill Downs. After breezing in company on April 23 and scoping clean, a relived Empress team had the green light they were looking for to make a run at Kentucky Oaks immortality.
“We were prepared to scratch and just think about the future,” says Amoss who took out his trainer’s license in 1987. “Then she started talking to me with her actions. Horses will talk, you just have to listen. Her ears were moving back and forth when she was going over the track and I could tell she was right.”
Right she was as her dominant performance was special to say the least. A bit forgotten at the windows, Serengeti Empress went off at 13 to 1, but the payoff for her royal court was way bigger.
“I didn’t bet a penny on her but winning this is more rewarding than if I had put a million dollars on her,” says Amoss. “I have never won a race like this, but I give her the credit because she is one special athlete, She was coming in looking great and working great and we are so happy everything went well.”