SARATOGA SPRINGS — She didn’t have the lead in a sprint and lost.
She got the lead in a longer race, and ran them off their feet.
Letruska posted fast early fractions in the mile-and-an-eighth Grade III Shuvee at Saratoga Race Course on Sunday and had plenty left in the tank to hold off Royal Flag by a length, giving trainer Fausto Gutierrez his first win at Saratoga in just his second appearance.
The first was Letruska’s fifth-place finish to Serengeti Empress in the seven-furlong Ballerina on Aug. 8. She tracked Serengeti Empress in second and faded late that day, but on Sunday, going an extra half-mile, she was the one dictating the race and never looked back.
“Of course I was nervous, especially because it’s my second time at this racetrack,” Gutierrez said with a laugh. “But she went very, very fast in the beginning, and then she had horse. The first jump was a little bit slow, and after she started to improve. Twenty-three and 46 was perfect, I think.”
Those numbers refer to the 23.05 seconds Letruska ran for the first quarter-mile and 46.20 for the half.
In six prior starts in North America after having raced in Mexico, Letruska had raced longer than a mile and a sixteenth just once and did not go longer than a mile in her previous three starts.
“She’s super-fast,” jockey Joel Rosario said. “I looked at her races, and she fires all the time. A mile and an eighth, was like, maybe … but she kept fighting.”
“In Mexico, she doesn’t have the competition, but she has very good times,” Gutierrez said. “And here, this is competition. After the last race in Miami [Gulfstream Park], when she went 23 and 44, I thought definitely she could go seven furlongs.
“The Ballerina was a big jump, and that day the filly was very, very nervous in the paddock. But this is the kind of race she can run, because I don’t know how many fillies can go with her in 46. And today she was perfect in the paddock. When she was quiet and relaxed, I thought we had a very good chance.”
“Give the winner the credit, she was the best horse in the race,” said Javier Castellano, who rode Royal Flag. “She put up a good pace, she went pretty quick and my filly came from behind, split horses, cut the corner at the quarter pole and did everything right. Just second best today.”
‘TIZ’ THE LATE
Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Tiz the Law will get a late start to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby because of a non-mechanical delay to the Tex Sutton flight scheduled to pick up him and two other Derby-bound horses based at Saratoga, Ny Traffic and Money Moves.
They were supposed to leave Monday afternoon, but will travel Tuesday morning instead.
The Derby post-position draw will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, and the Kentucky Oaks draw is 11 a.m. on Monday.
Like Tiz the Law, Ny Traffic is a New York-bred. He has finished second in three straight, the Grade II Louisiana Derby, Grade III Matt Winn and Grade I Haskell.
The lightly raced Money Moves is moving into the Derby never having run in a stakes. He finished second by a neck to Prioritize in an allowance optional claiming race while facing older horses at Saratoga on July 25.
“The horse ran well last time and he’s been training sharply. I felt like this is an opportunity that you don’t get very often, so we’re taking a shot,” Pletcher told the New York Racing Association.
“He got sick after his win at Gulfstream, so he missed some time, and to run a mile and an eighth off the layoff, I thought he showed a lot of determination in that race. It’s a tall order, but he’s given us all the right indications that he’s ready to step up and give it a try.”
Pletcher had planned to send Belmont runner-up Dr Post, who was third behind Authentic and Ny Traffic in the Haskell, to the Derby, but he’ll stay here and run in the Jim Dandy on Saturday’s Woodward card.
Also targeting the Jim Dandy are Celtic Striker, the Pletcher-trained Happy Saver, Jesus’ Team, Letmeno, Liveyourbestlife and Mystic Guide.
Pletcher will have Spinoff and Moretti in the Woodward.
On Sunday, five jockeys rode at Saratoga for the last time.
Manny Franco, Tiz the Law’s rider, Tyler Gaffalione, John Velazquez, Javier Castellano and Ricardo Santana Jr. will be on a flight to Kentucky to ride Derby horses and won’t be allowed back on the Saratoga grounds because of the COVID-19 lockdown of the rider colony.
“I think I’ve been racing here since 2001, almost 20 years, and I always finished the meet,” Castellano said. “It’s a crazy year for everyone, and we have to go with the flow. It’s unfortunate I couldn’t finish the meet, but I don’t have any complaints. This meet, competing with the Ortiz brothers and Joel Rosario, I’m very lucky to compete with the best jockeys in the country.”
Castellano will ride Money Moves in the Derby and Speech in the Kentucky Oaks.
Sackatoga Stable managing partner Jack Knowlton will be on that flight, too.
ANOTHER EQUINE DEATH
For the second day in a row, a horse was euthanized as a result of a racing injury at Saratoga.
Perfection, a 2-year-old filly trained by Michelle Nevin, was pulled up by jockey Manny Franco shortly after finishing the fifth race, which was scheduled for 5 1/2 furlongs on the Mellon turf course but was moved to the main track because of heavy rain on Saturday.
After a brace was applied to her left front leg, she was vanned off, then euthanized.
On Saturday, Pot of Hunny was put down on the backstretch when she was pulled up shortly after the start of the 11th race.
Over the first 23 racing days of the meet, there were no equine deaths from racing injuries; there have been four in 11 racing days since Aug. 16.
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