By Nicholas Godfrey
Oaklawn Park: Apple Blossom Hcap G1 $1m, 1m½f, dirt, 4yo+ f/m
Letruska (Fausto Gutierrez/Irad Ortiz)
Former Mexican champion Letruska was only a 13-5 chance but her victory in the Apple Blossom has to be regarded as a stunner nonetheless.
In a race billed as a potentially epic clash between a pair of champion females in Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver, it was Letruska, a five-year-old trained by Fausto Gutierrez, who got the better of an exciting stretch duel to claim this $1m highlight of Oaklawn’s Racing Festival of the South.
Having been sent to the lead ahead of Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver, Letruska looked a sitting duck when Monomoy Girl eased alongside three wide turning into the stretch, an extension of her winning streak to seven looking a formality.
Indeed, as Swiss Skydiver folded, Monomoy Girl got a neck in front, only seemingly to idle in the closing stages as her largely unconsidered rival ran on under pressure. In receipt of 6lb, she got her nose back in front where it mattered – and only her nose, as that was the official winning margin, with Swiss Skydiver beaten back fully 6½ lengths into third.
“It’s like in a movie,” said winning trainer Fausto Gutierrez, speaking to the Daily Racing Form. “When she started to come back and I saw a real chance to win, the movie had a happy ending!”
Letruska was taking her career record to 13 wins from 18 starts. She won her first six by a combined 40½ lengths, all of them at the Hipodromo de las Americas in Mexico City, including two legs of the fillies’ Triple Crown.
The daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver could not win all three, because the third is restricted to Mexican-breds and Letruska was bred in Kentucky.
After winning the Copa Invitacional del Caribe at Gulfstream Park in December 2019, Letruska was stationed permanently in the US as part of Gutierrez’s Palm Meadows-based string.
Since moving to the States, she has also won a couple of G3s for owner St George Stable, the racing name of copper-mining mogul Germán Larrea Mota-Velasco.
“I never dreamed of running at Saratoga and now we won the Apple Blossom – I need to wake up,” added Gutierrez. “It’s so sensational. This sport is incredible and this is an example of why.”
Shall we talk about it?
Fausto Gutierrez (Letruska’s trainer): “She’s very special – she’s a real great horse. After this race, she showed me she’s a champion. Physically, she’s spectacular. And the speed that she has – and the speed goes a long distance – she’s a racehorse.
“The instructions were: ‘We are the speed of the race.’ She started a little bit slow in the last races. I told Irad, ‘No matter if this happens, you try to move and go in front and set the pace and make the others think: What do you have to do?’ He has magical hands. It’s not this race. He does this all the time.
“When she [Monomoy Girl] took the lead and I saw Swiss Skydiver start to go a little bit back, in my mind, I thought second is very good. She started to come back and come back. I didn’t see the picture very clearly. I went carefully to check the replay and I thought, ‘Oops, we won.’”
Irad Ortiz (Letruska’s jockey): “I got the right trip – she likes to be on the lead, so I let her go, let her make the lead. She relaxed and I was able to save something for the end. She responded really well.”
Brad Cox (Monomoy Girl’s trainer): “She ran hard; it was a tough beat. I was surprised Letruska came back at her and you start wondering why. I won’t cry about it. But if you look at it, she had a significant amount of ground loss and the filly on the inside was game and battled back. I thought we ran a winning race and the 6lb may have got to us late. At that level, it really means something. I don’t want to say she’s lost a step at six but even if you lose a half-step, in a G1 race that’s tough to overcome.”
Florent Geroux (Monomoy Girl’s jockey): “Great trip. Just made the lead, she just started wandering around at the end. Done that pretty much all her career. It’s too bad we got caught today.”
Robby Albarado (Swiss Skydiver’s jockey): “I’m not going to fault her by any means. She was in a good spot the whole way. It was really a match race from the five-eighths pole home. Everybody changed positions. She had a great chance turning for home to go on with it and didn’t. Maybe second race back, who knows? She’ll come back.”
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