Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables and Allen Racing’s 2019 Champion Older Female Midnight Bisou is set to return against Joel Politti’s speedy 2019 Longines Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) winner Serengeti Empress in Saturday’s 45th running of the $200,000 Fleur de Lis presented by Coca-Cola (GII) at Churchill Downs.
For the sixth year in a row, the 1 1/8-mile Fleur de Lis is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” stakes event, which means the winner will be guaranteed a berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GII) on Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
The Fleur de Lis – which means “Flower of the Lily” and honors the French symbol that is incorporated into the city of Louisville’s Flag – will be run as Race 9 at 5:15 p.m. (all times Eastern). It will be televised live on NBC from 5-6 p.m.
Midnight Bisou (20-12-5-3—$7,250,000), trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen, has been nothing short of spectacular throughout her 20-race career. The now 5-year-old mare began her career on the 2018 Road to the Kentucky Oaks with victories in the $200,000 Santa Ynez (GII), $100,000 Santa Ysabel (GIII) and $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (GI) with previous trainer Bill Spawr. Midnight Bisou finished third behind Monomoy Girl in the 2018 Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI).
Under the care of Asmussen, Midnight Bisou reeled off victories in the $250,000 Mother Goose (GII), $1 million Cotillion (GI), $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic (GIII), $350,000 Azeri (GII), $750,000 Apple Blossom (GI), $700,000 Ogden Phipps (GI), $150,000 Molly Pitcher (GIII), $700,000 Personal Ensign (GI) and $300,000 Beldame (GII).
Earlier this year on Feb. 29, Midnight Bisou was beaten just three-quarters of a length by Maximum Security in the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup, which featured a field of 14 at 1 1/8 miles in the world’s richest horse race at King Abdulaziz Racecourse.
“Her training before we went to Saudi was just mindboggling,” Asmussen said. “It’s just like it is now. We still wonder how she’s able to do it so easily and so consistently. Her works at Churchill have been beautiful. I was very tempted to run her in the (June 13) Ogden Phipps and leaving She’s a Julie for the Fleur de Lis. I feel like with what she’s done – traveling to Saudi, taking on older boys and everyone knows the trip she got and knows the circumstances… how do you have an adjective for what she is and what she means to racing? Coming back, the next race isn’t the goal for this year. The Breeders’ Cup is. She is arguably the best horse in the world.”
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will be in the irons from post No. 5.
Serengeti Empress, the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Oaks, will attempt to get the jump on Midnight Bisou as the Tom Amoss trainee will likely be the speed of the race from post 4 under Joe Talamo.
“We have all the confidence in the world of our filly,” Amoss said. “We know how she likes to go and that’s to be on the lead. It’s a tough matchup against a champion but the way our horse has prepared for this race has us very confident she’ll put in a great performance.”
Serengeti Empress (15-6-3-1—$1,732,853) led every step of the way in last year’s Kentucky Oaks. The daughter of Alternation’s 3-year-old campaign included a narrow runner-up effort in the $500,000 Test (GI) and third-place finish in the Longines Distaff. In her 4-year-old campaign, Serengeti Empress was a convincing 6 ¼-length winner of the March 14 Azeri (GII).
The Fleur de Lis field also will include Jay Em Ess Stable’s multiple Grade III winner Go Google Yourself (20-7-5-3—$640,959), Abbondanza Racing, Mark DeDomenico and Medallion Racing’s stakes winner Motion Emotion (14-3-5-0—$454,196), Debby Oxley’s recent Shawnee Stakes runner-up Chocolate Kisses (13-3-3-2—$310,910), Calumet Farm’s three-time winner Red Dane (Ity) (27-3-3-4—$181,644) and Farfellow Farm’s multiple graded stakes placed Another Broad (17-4-3-2—$332,605).
The Fleur de Lis field from the rail out (with jockey and trainer): Go Google Yourself (Brian Hernandez Jr., Paul McGee); Another Broad (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher); Chocolate Kisses (Declan Carroll, Mark Casse); Midnight Bisou (Smith, Asmussen); Red Dane (Corey Lanerie, Charlie LoPresti); and Motion Emotion (Julien Leparoux, Richard Baltas).
All horses will tote 120 pounds except Midnight Bisou and Serengeti Empress who will carry 124.