SARATOGA SPRINGS — When pushed to the limit, Letruska showed her class.
Letruska led from start to finish, and turned away a bevy of late challengers to hold on for a half-length win in the Grade I, $600,000 Personal Ensign as part of the Travers Day undercard on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. for trainer Fausto Gutierrez, Letruska scored her third straight win in a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, having previously scored in the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs and the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.
“She’s a special horse. I am very excited and happy for the trainer, Fausto Gutierrez. He’s done such a great job with her. She’s doing great. She does all the hard work, I just pilot her. She’s easy to ride,” Ortiz told the New York Racing Association. “We always knew she was a nice filly, but she likes to fight. She’s a fighter.”
Letruska put her fight on full display in the Personal Ensign, running against a field of eight other graded stakes winners. That included 2020 Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver, who outbroke Letruska for an early lead until Ortiz put his 5-year-old mare in front.
Letruska continued to lead through the opening three-quarters of a mile, with Miss Marissa and Swiss Skydiver stalking just behind while Harvey’s Lil Goil began to gain ground running four-wide.
Hitting the stretch, Letruska led by a length over Dunbar Road, who rallied from last into a threatening spot on the inside.
Challengers continued to roll up heading through the line as Bonny South came between horses to join a group of contenders inside the eighth pole, but Letruska dug in and held on for the win. Bonny South finished second, a head in front of Royal Flag.
“I had concerns when they were running at her because these are very good horses and they are in good form. It’s not easy,” Gutierrez said. “She don’t have nothing to show to nobody. I’m very pleased with the way she ran. Every place that she’s run, with all the horses she run against, she’s fast. She fights and she’s a real racehorse.”
Patience paid off for Gufo and jockey Joel Rosario in the Grade I, $750,000 Sword Dancer, as the 4-year-old colt took command in the stretch and held off a late charge from Japan to win the 1 1/2-mile stamina turf test.
Gufo sat last in the seven-horse field the first time past the wire, advanced inside rivals down the backstretch and angled between horses through the final turn before rallying outside Tribhuvan and Channel Maker en route to holding off Japan by a neck in a final time of 2:28.30.
It was the third Sword Dancer score for trainer Christophe Clement, who won previously with Honor Glide in 1999 and Winchester in 2011.
“I am delighted with this horse and the way he ran today. He is a top-class horse. He’s always been a top-class horse,” Clement said. “A mile-and-a-quarter, a mile-and-a-half, it really doesn’t matter for him. I am delighted to win this race. The race set up perfect. There was plenty of pace. The stable has been lucky [winning] that way this year. This is fun, and it’s the kind of race we like to win.”
The Aidan O’Brien-trained Japan, who posted consecutive Group I wins in 2019 in the 12-furlong Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp and the 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International at York, demonstrated a strong turn-of-foot under jockey Ryan Moore to complete the exacta, 3 1/2-lengths clear of New York-bred Cross Border.
“He ran very well today. I was pleased with it,” Moore said.
Yaupon turned back a furious challenge from Firenze Fire to capture a dramatic renewal of the Grade I, $600,000 Forego, a seven-furlong sprint for older horses.
Yaupon, with Ricardo Santana, Jr. up, and Firenze Fire, piloted by Jose Ortiz, ran one-two throughout the 42nd edition of the Forego with a determined Firenze Fire savaging his rival inside the final sixteenth of a mile, biting at the bridle of Yaupon, who pulled away to secure the win by a head.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Yaupon set splits of 23.09 seconds and 45.70 on the fast main track, with Firenze Fire at his flank and multiple Grade 1 winner Mind Control saving ground in fourth inside Doubly Blessed.
Firenze Fire took dead aim racing outside of Yaupon out of the turn and the rivals threw it down the length of the stretch with Yaupon securing his first Grade I win in a final time of 1:21.74.
“I will watch that replay many times in my future,” Asmussen said. “For that to happen in a Grade I at Saratoga with two horses on the lead, that will be memorable.”
“Honestly, I watched it from the apron down the stretch. I was worried he was going to bite Ricardo,” he added. “We’ve had some not ideal finishes this year and you’re not there until you get to the wire. Everybody’s always known what a brilliant horse he is, the talent that he’s shown, and for him to show up today on a stage and beat five Grade I winners was amazing.”
It was the second Forego victory for Asmussen, who captured the 2019 running with Mitole, who went on to win that year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint en route to Eclipse Award honors as Champion Male Sprinter.
Santana, who picked up his third Forego victory, said he tried to focus on the task at hand in deep stretch.
“That was kind of scary,” he said. That never happened to me before and the only thing I can think is don’t stop riding.”
The wild stretch run in the Forego came nearly three years after Firenze Fire was involved on the other side of a similar incident, when he was savaged in deep stretch by Whereshetoldmetogo in the Grade III Gallant Bob at Parx in September 2018.
This time around, with Firenze Fire the aggressor, Ortiz said the loss of momentum cost his mount the race.
“I had perfect position,” Ortiz said. “I stayed next to him [Yaupon] and I thought I had him beat, but you saw what happened inside the sixteenth [when] my horse tried to bite the other horse and I really had to get a hold of him to get him away from him.
“Honestly, it was really weird, I’ve never been in that [position] before,” he added. “He got me too close to the horse when he did that [savaging Yaupon]. The [gallop-out] was perfect; he came back in great order. I think he should’ve won that race.”
Viadera held off High Opinion’s inside rush to win the Grade II, $400,000 Ballston Spa, a 1 1/16-mile inner turf test for older fillies and mares that kicked of Saturday’s stakes action.
The 5-year-old daughter of Bated Breath was one of three entrants in the six-horse field for meet-leading trainer Chad Brown, along with Tamahere and Kalifornia Queen.
Tamahere broke sharply for Irad Ortiz, Jr. and led the field through the opening six furlongs, with Platinum Paynter tracking in second position as Viadera saved ground in third under Joel Rosario.
Viadera moved up the rail through the final turn as Kalifornia Queen rallied outside, with New York Girl following in kind. Viadera angled three-wide out of the turn and dug in to chase down Tamahere as High Opinion made her move up the rail under Luis Saez.
Rosario kept to task on his charge and Viadera put her nose down on the wire to secure the narrow win over High Opinion in a final time of 1:41.82.
“Joel got in really good position this time and made sure there weren’t too many horses in front of him and in his way when he wanted to make his run,” Brown said. “She got a nice, pocketed ground-saving trip, and once again she showed that she knows where the wire is. She’s won a couple of close photo finishes now in her career.”
It was the sixth Ballston Spa score for Brown, who previously won with Zagora (2012), Dacita (2015), Lady Eli (2017), Quidura (2018) and Significant Form (2019).
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