LOUISVILLE, May 3 (UPI) -- May 3 (UPI) -- Serengeti Empress took the early lead in Friday's $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, showed the way and held on gamely to win by 2 lengths over Liora.
With Jose Ortiz Jr. riding, Serengeti Empress bounced back from a last-place finish in the Fair Grounds Oaks in New Orleans to win America's biggest race for 3-year-old fillies. Lady Apple finished third and the favorite, Santa Anita Oaks winner Bellafinia, was never involved and finished fifth.
Serengeti Empress, a daughter of Alternation out of the Bernardini mare Havisham, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.17 over a track rated fast as threatened rains never materialized.
Winning trainer Tom Amoss noted his filly "broke super sharp. I left it Jose's hands."
Midway through the race, Amoss said, his concerned wife asked, "'Too fast?' Not for her. She's really fast."
"I got to taste the sweet, sweet drink of the Kentucky Oaks and I want more," the trainer said.
Liora came to Churchill Downs after finishing second to Serengeti Empress in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra and second again in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She drew within 1 length of the winner midway down the long stretch run but could not sustain the bid.
Lady Apple's third-place finish followed three straight wins at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, culminating in a 1-length victory in the Grade III Fantasy.
Serengeti Empress won three of her first four races before finishing a fading seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, also run at Churchill Downs. She returned to win the Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds before the last-place finish in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She bled in that race and was eased by jockey James Graham.
Friday's race produced a scary moment a few strides after the start when Positive Spirit clipped heels with a rival, stumbled and fell. Neither the filly nor jockey Manny Franco was injured in the incident.