By Joe Bianca
Last January, following a promising sophomore season that fell short of a divisional title, Midnight Bisou (Midnight Lute) made her 4-year-old debut with a win in the GIII Houston Ladies Classic S., using it as a springboard to a championship campaign. Sunday at Sam Houston, Joel Politi's Eclipse finalist Serengeti Empress (Alternation) will attempt to replicate her predecessor's feat against five rivals as she opens her auspicious 4-year-old account.
Catching the racing world's attention with back-to-back stakes wins by a combined 33 lengths in the summer of 2018, the $70,000 Keeneland September grad disappointed when retreating to finish seventh in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Annexing the GII Rachel Alexandra S. in her sophomore bow, she was somewhat written off following a no-show in the GII Fair Grounds Oaks, but caught her competition napping to score a wire-to-wire upset of the GI Kentucky Oaks. Runner-up to fellow Eclipse finalist Guarana (Ghostzapper) in the GI Acorn S. and champion Covfefe (Into Mischief) in the GI Longines Test S., the dark bay was a well-beaten sixth after chasing a sizzling pace in the GI Cotillion S., but ran arguably the best race of her career in her seasonal finale when holding for third after paving the way through blistering fractions in the GI Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff Nov. 2. She shows three breezes at her Fair Grounds base since then, including a half-mile in :48 flat (6/137) Jan. 12.
Street Band (Istan) looks to build on an encouraging 3-year-old campaign as well. Upsetting Serengeti Empress in the Fair Grounds Oaks, she was no match for that rival when sixth in the Kentucky Oaks, but annexed the Cotillion and GIII Indiana Oaks sandwiched around a third in the GI Alabama S. The chestnut made no impact when eighth in the Distaff, but returns with five sharp breezes in New Orleans, capped by a five-furlong bullet in :59 2/5 (1/11) Jan. 21.
A pair of last-out graded stakes winners rate chances in Sather Family's Mylady Curlin (Curlin), victress of the GII Falls City H. Nov. 28 at Churchill, and Phoenix Thoroughbreds and KatieRich Stables' Lady Apple (Curlin), who scored in the GIII Remington Park Oaks when last seen Sept. 29. The top two finishers from the Bob Fortus Memorial S. Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds, 31-1 upsetter Saracosa (Bernardini) and Out for a Spin (Hard Spun), who took down the GI Central Bank Ashland S. at 52-1 last spring, round out the field.