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HOT SPRINGS, AR – While all eyes were on the field’s heavy hitters, Letruska upset the apple cart with a gutsy re-rallying stretch effort to defeat Monomoy Girl, Swiss Skydiver, and three others in Saturday’s $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn Park.
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Letruska broke from post 3 under Irad Ortiz Jr. as the 3/1 second choice and initially tracked outside a hustled Swiss Skydiver heading into the clubhouse turn before outkicking that rival and holding sole command on the backstretch.
Letruska posted opening fractions of :23.56, :47.96, and 1:12.26 before Monomoy Girl – sitting just behind her in the clear and keeping Swiss Skydiver pinned to the rail – ranged up to challenge heading into the far turn.
Monomoy Girl took the lead off the far turn as Swiss Skydiver attempted to dive through an opening along the rail, but Letruska refused to give up and fought back gamely, taking Monomoy Girl’s jockey Florent Geroux by surprise when she re-engaged in deep stretch.
Poking her nose in front in the shadow of the wire, the Fausto Gutierrez-trained Letruska crossed a nostril clear while stopping the clock for the 1 1/16-mile fast dirt route in 1:43.14.
“The instructions were, ‘We are the speed of the race,'” Gutierrez said. “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.”
“Great trip,” Monomoy Girl’s jockey Florent Geroux said. “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.”
After her bold rail move failed, Swiss Skydiver and jockey Robby Albarado faded steadily in the stretch but still saved third by 1 1/4 lengths over Getridofwhatailesu and Another Broad.
“I’m not going to fault her by any means,” Albarado said of the loss. “She was in a good spot the whole way. It was really a match race from the 5/8-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 (off a layoff), who knows? She’ll come back.”
Chance to Shine completed the order of finish in the race restricted to fillies and mares ages 4 and up.
“When (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; we finished close,'” Gutierrez said. “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.'”
Letruska’s win was her third at the Grade/Group 1 level and first in America; the Kentucky-bred mare began her career racing in Mexico City, where she won the other pair as a 3-year-old. The now 5-year-old Super Saver mare, who’s won 3 at the Grade 3 level since coming stateside, improved her record to 18-13-1-1 with $1,157,319 earned for owner/breeder St. George Stable.
Letruska joined Mazatleca as the only other horse to begin its career in Mexico and win a United States-based graded stakes. The Mexican-bred Mazatleca won the 1986 Red Bank Handicap (G3) at Monmouth Park.
“For me, this is incredible because I come from a small racetrack in Mexico City,” Gutierrez said. “This horse started her career there. We had the confidence to send her here (to the United States) and she started to improve, improve and improve. She’s run at different tracks. She’s run at Houston, Saratoga, Gulfstream. She’s a very tough horse, but this is the best result she’s had in her career.”
Letruska returned $8.80 to win, $3 to place, and $2.20 to show. Monomoy Girl brought back $2.20 to place and $2.10 to show. Swiss Skydiver paid $2.10 to show.
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