For those who hadn’t seen Serengeti Empress (by Alternation) win the Ellis Park Juvenile Fillies by 13 ½ lengths on Aug. 19, the filly’s victory on September 15 in the Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs was a revelation. The dark brown 2-year-old won the historic stakes by 19 ½ lengths, the longest margin of victory in a stakes race at Churchill Downs since Rachel Alexandra shellacked her opposition in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks.


Alternation — high-class racing son of leading sire Distorted Humor has had a super September, highlighted by his juvenile daughter Serengeti Empress winning the Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill by 19 1/2 lengths (Pin Oak photo).

The filly is the fifth stakes winner by her sire, a big dark bay son of leading sire Distorted Humor (Forty Niner), and is from the stallion’s second crop. She is also Alternation’s second graded stakes winner; the first came 13 days earlier when the sire’s first-crop son Limation won the G3 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

Those two important stakes winners are coming at an opportune time, as breeders begin the process of deciding which stallions to send their mares to in 2019. With horses like these, Alternation will not be forgotten.

Clifford Barry, general manager for Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stud, which bred, raced, and stands Alternation at stud for a syndicate, said “Serengeti Empress gave us a freakish performance on Saturday. We’ve been pumped up all weekend because it’s very exciting for everybody, including the members of the syndicate who have supported (Alternation) so well.

“This has been a tremendous family for Pin Oak,” Barry went on to say, because both Alternation and the farm’s proven sire Broken Vow (Unbridled) have the Iron Ruler mare Strike a Pose as their third dam. “Mrs. Abercrombie gets a lot of credit for her patience and foresight in working to develop this family,” Barry said, and also full marks because the owner-breeder went somewhat against the current trends of the marketplace, which is hard to do, in standing a nice young horse of her own breeding and racing that fell just a shade outside the “commercial range” for a Kentucky-based sire.

Make no mistake. Alternation was a darned nice horse, winning nine races, including four graded stakes, and earning a bit more than $1 million. Any horse owner would love to have a dozen of those.

Alternation’s best performances came at 3 with victory in the G2 Peter Pan Stakes and then also at 4 with five successes in seven starts, including the G2 Oaklawn Handicap, plus the G3 Pimlico Special and Razorback Handicap.

But that elusive G1 victory essentially was the difference between being a young prospect who had to stand at a fee below $10,000 and getting to start off with a fee that was a multiple of 10. As part of securing Alternation a future at stud, Pin Oak syndicated the horse so that he would have a base of support among breeders.

One of those was bloodstock agent Jacob West, who said, “I was there at Pimlico when he won the Pimlico Special, and that’s literally the reason I bought the share.”

At the beginning of the horse’s second year at stud, West was at the Keeneland January sale “looking for an inexpensive mare that would fit Alternation, and we happened onto the dam of Serengeti Empress.” That was the unraced Bernardini mare Miss Havisham, being sold on by Darley as a broodmare prospect, and West picked her up for $5,000.

Later in 2015 at the Keeneland November sale and in foal to Alternation, Miss Havisham was bought back by her owners Tri Eques Bloodstock LLC for $34,000. That partnership (West, his father-in-law Val Henson, and an uncle of West’s wife) became the breeders of multiple stakes winner Serengeti Empress. The next year, both the dam and her weanling went through the ring at Keeneland November. Again in foal to Alternation, the dam sold to Triple Crown for $12,000, and her foal made twice that valuation, selling for $25,000 to Dixon Enterprises.

Fred Seitz Jr. said, “That’s one of our family entities at Brookdale. We resell probably 10 weanlings to yearlings every year. In selecting them, I prefer something that looks like it’s got some growing to do. There are a lot of finished products at the weanling sales.

“She was kind of awkward-looking at the time, but I thought she might grow up into something nice, and she did. Other times they don’t. [When resold for $70,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September sale as Hip 2471], we thought we got all the money [for her], but it turns out she’s worth a lot more now. The people who have her [owner Joel Politi and trainer Tom Amoss] are going to have a really good time.”

Indeed they are. If Serengeti Empress continues to progress in a similar fashion to her sire and broodmare sire Bernardini, she has plenty of improvement ahead, and that is quite a prospect to contemplate.