When trainer Fausto Gutierrez says that Letruska “has improved and improved and improved,” it sounds like a simple statement of enthusiasm.
Then you look at her race record, and it actually is pretty accurate, from an “improved” count.
The first wave came in Gutierrez’s native Mexico, where the daughter of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver progressed from a 6 3/4-length debut win through the allowance ranks all the way to back-to-back Group 1 wins by a combined 23 1/2 lengths. With a perfect record from six starts in Mexico, it was time for bigger things.
The second wave was a much bumpier ride, but after she arrived at Saratoga Race Course last summer, Letruska became a graded stakes winner in the U.S., winning the Grade III Shuvee.
If the Shuvee was a breakthrough race, 2021 has been a breakthrough season for Letruska, who has won four of five starts, all in graded stakes, with back-to-back Grade I victories.
She’s riding that wave into the Grade I Personal Ensign as part of Saturday’s Travers Day undercard. During her five-race 2021 span, Letruska has knocked off the likes of champions Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver, and came back from her only loss of the year, by a head to Shedaresthedevil in the Azeri, to finish 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Shedaresthedevil in the $1 million Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.
“Definitely, this horse now is very different from last year. I don’t like when people ask me, ‘And now she goes to the [breeding stock] sale in November?’ ” Gutierrez said with a laugh. “She has just started to run, why do you want to send her to the sale?”
For a 5-year-old mare who has “just started to run,” Letruska has won 15 of 20 career starts, including the 6-for-6 in Mexico in 2018 and 2019.
Of her $1,616,459 earnings in 14 U.S. starts, she has accounted for $1,305,540 in 2021, bolstered by the $6000,000 Ogden Phipps winner’s share.
She currently stands No. 2 behind Pegasus World Cup and Whitney winner Knicks Go on the weekly NTRA overall national Thoroughbred rankings.
Letruska’s style is to simply get out of the gate quickly and run her opponents off their feet every step of the way, and Gutierrez made a discovery at Saratoga last year — helped by the torrid Serengeti Empress — that maybe Letruska would be better suited to apply that style to longer races instead of trying to be a sprinter.
In the seven-furlong Grade I Ballerina, Letruska and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. tried to stay with Serengeti Empress early, and got burned, falling back to fifth by 6 1/2 lengths. Letruska has raced at a mile and a sixteenth four times this year and a mile and an eighth, the Personal Ensign distance, in her last start, which she won by 5 3/4 lengths in the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 26.
“She ran with Serengeti Empress, who is very fast,” Gutierrez said. “That day, she bled [from the lungs], too. I have so many mistakes for that race, but anyway. And Santana told me that going 21 [seconds for the first quarter-mile] and 43 or something like this [for the half] … ‘I can move more.’ But what do you want, 42?
“But finally, she’s the speed in the long distances. This is perfect. This is the conclusion I have. A mile and an eighth is good, and a mile and a quarter is better, too. Because this pace that she has is difficult to follow, you know? It’s not important to go 22 or 23 or the fractions.”
Gutierrez and Letruska’s owner, St. George Stable, are dominant forces in Mexico.
Gutierrez started shifting some of his horses to Gulfstream Park in Florida a few years ago, but didn’t venture to Saratoga until last year, and only with Letruska for the Ballerina and mile-and-an-eighth Shuvee, which she won on the front end by a length over Royal Flag.
The trainer saddled his third Saratoga starter ever on Thursday, winning a claiming race with Vegas Weekend, who was then claimed from Gutierrez by Rob Atras.
The stakes will be considerably higher in Saturday’s Personal Ensign.
“Because it’s something I saw a long time ago when I’m very young, it’s special to watch the races at Saratoga and the horses that run here,” he said. “It’s a tough class, with the quality of horses. When we compare the program between Saratoga and Del Mar … OK, they have big stakes, but even the normal allowance or claiming prices here are very special. This is not something that’s new.”
Under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., Letruska breezed five furlongs in 59.02 on Saturday, the fastest of 18 works on the main track that day.
“Normally, she is a horse who likes to work fast, and she worked well today,” Gutierrez said. “The idea was to feel full of horse, and she’s a horse that is ready to run.”
MALATHAAT STRAIGHT TO DISTAFF
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday morning that Alabama winner Malathaat likely would train up to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 6 at Del Mar instead of looking for a race between.
“Nothing’s etched in stone, but that’s sort of the plan that we discussed with [Shadwell racing manager] Rick Nichols a while ago,” he told the New York Racing Association.
Malathaat rebounded from a grueling, narrow loss in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks to win the Alabama in convincing fashion, by a length and a half over Clairiere.
“It was a very, very strong performance,” Pletcher said. “She looks good this morning.”
MIDNIGHT BOURBON BREEZES
While most of the Travers prospects breezed on Saturday, Midnight Bourbon went out on Sunday and worked a half-mile in 49.60 on the Oklahoma training track.
He hasn’t won since the Grade III Lecomte six starts back, but was in the thick of it in the Preakness, finishing second, and in his last start, when Hot Rod Charlie clipped heels with Midnight Bourbon in the stretch and jockey Paco Lopez fell off the Steve Asmussen-trained colt.
Off a close second-place finish to Royal Flag in the Shuvee, Horologist and jockey Junior Alvarado toyed with the field and won Sunday’s feature, the $120,000 Summer Colony for fillies and mares at a mile and an eighth on the wet main track, by 8 1/2 lengths.
“She had traffic trouble in two races,” trainer Bill Mott said. “She was inside and stuck down in there the last two races. We let her bounce out of there and do her thing without getting in her way. I think we’ve kept her from winning on a couple of occasions. A win does everyone some good.”
“It was simple,” Alvarado said. “I rode her like the best horse, and she showed it out there. Once she put herself on the lead, she took me all the way around.”
Mott said they would look at the Beldame at Belmont Park for Horologist’s next start.
Jockeys Irad Ortiz Jr. and Dylan Davis lost their luggage in Toronto, but won stakes races on a big day at Woodbine, anyway, using equipment and gear borrowed from the Woodbine rider colony.
Leaving Saratoga to ride on the Queen’s Plate card, Ortiz won the main event aboard the Phil Serpe-trained Safe Conduct, barely holding off Riptide Rock in the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. The Queen’s Plate, which is usually held in June, was run with 50% capacity approved for fans at Woodbine.
Davis won the Grade II Dance Smartly aboard Mutamakina for trainer Christophe Clement.
Ortiz was on Caravel, who won in commanding fashion in the Caress at Saratoga, for the Grade I Highlander, but she finished third.
AROUND THE TRACKS
The John Sadler-trained Tripoli, making just the second stakes start of his 14-race career, got past Tizamagician to win the $1 million Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Saturday night.
Dr Post, the 2020 Belmont Stakes runner-up to Tiz the Law, was third.
Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey, canceled its Sunday card because of the potential impact of Tropical Storm Henri.
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