By Jessica Martini
Joel Politi was still a relative newcomer to racehorse ownership when Serengeti Empress (Alternation) took him to the winner's circle of the 2019 GI Kentucky Oaks. The dream ride could continue when the mare's first foal, a colt by Into Mischief (hip 309), goes through the sales ring Tuesday during the second Book 1 session of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale through the Taylor Made Sales Agency consignment.
“I am excited, proud and nervous, how about that? Probably a lot of emotions,” Politi said ahead of next week's auction. “Serengeti Empress means the world to me and my family. And then because of that, her first foal means a lot to us as well. He's a beautiful, good-looking, athletic colt, so I would love to keep him. But I also understand that, if I am going to stay in horse racing for a while, then I am going to have to stick to my basic philosophy of keeping my fillies and selling my colts. I intend to stay in horse racing for the long term, so it's a very practical thing to sell him, but it's also an emotional thing to sell him.”
Politi, an orthopedic surgeon living in Columbus, Ohio, grew up around horses on his father's farm in Youngstown. He first began his own racing stable in 2005 with claiming horses owned in partnerships, but he decided to strike out on his own in 2015.
“In about 2015, I decided I wanted to start a broodmare band with the idea of racing horses and trying to create a broodmare band from scratch,” Politi explained. “Honestly, the first horse that we bought at the sale was Serengeti. And all of the credit goes to [trainer] Tom Amoss. We picked her at the sale–when I say we–Tom picked her.”
Politi purchased Serengeti Empress for $70,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September sale. Under Amoss's tutelage, the filly proved an immediate success, romping by 13 1/2 lengths in the 2018 Ellis Park Debutante and by 19 1/2 lengths in the GII Pocahontas S. She returned at three to win the GII Rachel Alexandra S. before her Oaks victory on the first Friday in May. Runner-up in the GI Acorn S. and GI Test S., she ended her sophomore campaign with a third-place effort in the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff.
At four, she added the GII Azeri S. and GI Ballerina S. to her resume, was second in the GI Derby City Distaff S. and concluded her racing career with a runner-up effort behind Gamine (Into Mischief) in the 2020 GI Breeders' Cup F/M Sprint. All told, she earned $2,175,653 on the track.
Her success on the racetrack made her a valuable commodity in the breeding shed, but Politi never wavered in his desire to retain the filly once her racing career was over.
“I was always going to keep her,” Politi said. “When we raced her, I had offers at every step along the way to sell her. Basically right after her Ellis Park Debutante win, I had significant offers, after her Pocahontas win, I had significant offers, and then I had real offers for her later in her career. And then at the end of her career, everybody kind of assumed that the normal protocol that a lot of people follow is to race their mares and sell them in November at the end of their careers. At that point, I had no interest in selling her. I've grown up around horses and to have a horse as special as her is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I just didn't feel right selling her and letting her go to somebody else, no matter how good of a broodmare she ever became. I was going to keep her and be able to enjoy her for the rest of her life.”
Serengeti Empress has become a permanent fixture in the Politi family.
“We go visit her all of the time,” Politi said. “My family likes visiting her, I like visiting her. And we know she is really well cared for. So that's priceless.”
The family has been watching the mare's first foal since before he was born.
“We had a camera on her stall the entire time she was pregnant,” Politi said. “We watched her every day. We were living and dying with this little guy as he was going through all the trials and tribulations of being born and growing. So we are very invested in him, so it will be emotional to watch him sell, but I am trying to be practical.”
Politi currently has 11 broodmares, including Li'l Tootsie (Tapiture), who was purchased for $105,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September sale and went on to win a pair of stakes and hit the board in three graded events, including a third-place effort in the 2021 GII Prioress S. Also in the band is Littlestitious (Ghostzapper), who was acquired for $190,000 at that same auction and is also a two-time stakes winner. Both mares are currently in foal to Not This Time.
“We bought five other fillies that have turned into nice stakes horses and a couple of them that never really got to show their potential that I love and I think they'll be great,” Politi said. “So we have a nice group of broodmares and now they are forever part of the little family.”
Politi's young broodmare band had its first Keeneland September offering a year ago when selling a filly by Bolt d'Oro out of Del Mar May (Jimmy Creed) (hip 1778) for $85,000 to pinhooker Tom McCrocklin. McCrocklin sold the filly for $375,000 at this year's OBS Spring sale.
“I am not upset that somebody did much better on her than I did because I own the broodmare,” Politi said with a laugh. “She is a nice mare and I have a yearling filly by Not This Time out of her that I am keeping. So I am rooting hard for that Bolt filly.”
Of his broodmare band, Politi said, “It'll be fluid, but I don't intend to become Stonestreet. My number is going to stay in that seven, eight, nine, 10 range. At some point, I will pare down what I have and just try to curate a really boutique, quality band of broodmares that I am happy to keep the foals and race them if nobody wants them or sell some of them and keep the whole operation going that way, that will be part of the plan.”
Politi currently has about eight horses in training, but he expects to do some shopping as well as selling at Keeneland next week.
“Tom and I will go shopping for some more yearlings,” he said.
“We are doing the same thing. We are buying athletes–physicals first–and try to get a pedigree as far as the dollars will let you go. But physical first.”
While Serengeti Empress failed to get in foal last year, she is back in foal to Curlin with another baby likely destined for the sales ring.
“I certainly was hoping for a filly, but we sexed the baby and it's a colt. They called me with the bad news,” Politi said chuckling. “I was really hoping for a Curlin filly. But it's ok. It is what it is.”
The Keeneland September sale begins Monday with the first of two Book 1 sessions beginning at 1 p.m. Book 2 sessions Wednesday and Thursday begin at 11 a.m. and, following a dark day Friday, the auction resumes Saturday at 10 a.m.