Letruska Flying Under the Radar for the Apple Blossom
Clearly, the stars of the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Oaklawn are Eclipse Award winners Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver.
As for the small supporting cast, the most accomplished of the four other entrants is Letruska for trainer Fausto Gutierrez and breeder/owner St. George Stable LLC (German Larrea Mota-Velasco).
A champion in Mexico for her Mexican connections, the speedy Letruska has won 12 of 17 lifetime starts, including the $125,000 Shuvee (G3) Aug. 30 at Saratoga and the $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) Jan. 31 at Sam Houston. In her return to Oaklawn, Letruksa finished second, beaten a head by Shedaresthedevil, in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 13. The Azeri is the final major local prep for the Apple Blossom.
“I know it’s a tough race, but this is the perfect spot to try,” Gutierrez said after Letruksa’s half-mile bullet workout Sunday morning at Oaklawn. “We don’t have anything to lose. Any of these horses have to run their best race to win. Of course, Letruska, but Swiss Skydiver needs her best effort and Monomoy, too.”
Letruksa won her first seven career starts, including six at Hipodromo De Las Americas in Mexico City. The streak was highlighted by blowouts in two legs of Mexico’s Triple Crown for 3-year-old fillies in 2019 – Clasico Esmeralda (G1) and Clasico Diamante (G1) – when Letruksa was named the country’s divisional champion.
“Why not three? Because one is just for Mexican-breds,” Gutierrez said.
Larrea Mota-Velasco, a copper mining mogul, bred Letruksa in Kentucky. The 5-year-old mare is by 2010 Kentucky Derby winner and Arkansas Derby runner-up Super Saver.
In addition to the Shuvee and Houston Ladies Classic, Letruksa’s resume includes a front-running romp against males in her American debut, the restricted $85,000 Copa Invitacional del Caribe Stakes, in December 2019 at Gulfstream Park, an allowance victory last April at Oaklawn and a victory in the $100,000 Rampart Stakes (G3) Dec. 12 at Gulfstream Park. Letruska normally goes straight to the front in her races.
Letruska won her six starts in Mexico by a combined 40 ½ lengths and joined select company, Gutierrez said, with her American success.
Gutierrez said Mazatleca is the only other horse to begin its career in Mexico and win a graded stakes race in the United States. The Mexican-bred Mazatleca captured the $50,000 Red Bank Handicap (G3) in 1986 at Monmouth Park before going on to a distinguished broodmare career. Mazatleca is the dam of Grade 1 winner Wild Escapade and Grade 2 winner Mazel Trick.
But no horse that started its racing career in Mexico, Gutierrez said, has won a Grade 1 race in the United States. Letruksa, in her Grade 1 debut in the United States, finished fifth in the $300,000 Ballerina last August at Saratoga.
“This is the big gap,” Gutierrez said. “Maybe the horses that run in Mexico, in the Triple Crown, run here for a claiming price or for $12,000 (allowance purse). It’s another planet. There’s no comparison. It’s absolutely another planet. It’s not like Argentina or Brazil or maybe Chile – to the level it’s very good.
Letruksa nearly grabbed her signature American victory in the Azeri, falling just short of catching 2020 Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil after, unexpectedly, coming from off the pace in the 1 1/16 mile race.
“That was not the plan,” Gutierrez said.
Letruksa switches from Joel Rosario to three-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. for the Apple Blossom. Letruksa is scheduled to break from post 3 Saturday. Swiss Skydiver drew post 2, Monomoy Girl post 6 in the projected six-horse field.
Instead of shipping back to her south Florida base, Letruksa remained at Oaklawn following the Azeri and recorded two works leading up the Apple Blossom. She covered a half-mile in :48.80 April 4 and zipped a half-mile in :47.20 last weekend, galloping out 5 furlongs in :59.40.
“She’s a very sound filly,” Gutierrez said. “I think 5 years old is the perfect age for her.”
Letruska, a seven-time stakes winner, has career earnings of $557,319.
The Apple Blossom headlines Saturday’s 12-race card, with probable post time 6:09 p.m. (Central). It is the 11th race. First post Saturday is 12:02 p.m.
The projected Apple Blossom field from the rail out: Another Broad, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 115 pounds; Swiss Skydiver, Robby Albarado, 122; Letruska, Irad Ortiz Jr., 118; Chance to Shine, Ken Tohill, 114; Getridofwhatailesu, Francisco Arrieta, 117; and Monomoy Girl, Florent Geroux, 124.
Monomoy Girl (14 for 16 overall) won an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2018 and champion older dirt female last year. She won the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 28 at Oaklawn in her 2021 debut for trainer Brad Cox.
Swiss Skydiver won an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2020. Swiss Skydiver won five races last year, including Oaklawn’s $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G1) and beat males in the Preakness, the final leg of the revamped Triple Crown. Swiss Skydiver won the $300,000 Beholder Mile (G1) March 13 at Santa Anita in her 2021 debut for trainer Kenny McPeek.
Swiss Skydiver, based at Churchill Downs, was scheduled to arrive Wednesday afternoon, according to Oaklawn stall superintendent Beverly Fowler. Monomoy Girl returned to Oaklawn April 4 and recorded a half-mile workout, in company, last Sunday morning.
Saturday’s card also includes the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) at 1 1/8 miles for older horses. Probable post time for the Oaklawn Handicap, which goes as race 9, is 4:49 p.m.
The projected eight-horse Oaklawn Handicap field from the rail out: Silver State, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 118 pounds; Express Train, Juan Hernandez, 122; Fearless, Irad Ortiz Jr., 119; Warrior’s Charge, Elvin Gonzalez, 118; Guest Suite, Francisco Arrieta, 115; Owendale, Florent Geroux, 119; Rated R Superstar, Ramon Vazquez, 116; and Silver Prospector, David Cabrera, 116.
The infield, weather permitting, will be open Saturday.
Trainer Chris Hartman doesn’t have an entrant in the $150,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes for 3-year-old Arkansas-bred fillies Friday at Oaklawn. But Hartman’s wife/assistant, Hillary, has a strong rooting interest, nevertheless, since her namesake, Hillary G, is among the favorites for the 6-furlong race.
Hillary G is co-owned by trainer Austin Gustafson, who named the filly and sent her to trainer Tommy Vance of Hot Springs for a state-bred maiden special weights sprint March 21 at Oaklawn. Hillary G, in her second lifetime start, broke her maiden by 2 ½ lengths and is the 7-2 second choice in the program for the Rainbow Miss.
Hillary Hartman said Hillary G was orphaned and she received the filly from prominent Arkansas breeder Bill McDowell (McDowell Farm). Maybe a week after the filly was born, Hartman said she sent her to Gustafson’s father, Ricky.
“She was an orphan foal and I had nowhere to put her,” Hartman said. “I knew Austin and his dad. Austin and my daughter were like boyfriend/girlfriend for six, seven years. I called Austin and said there’s this gorgeous little orphaned filly and I don’t have anywhere to take her and feed her. I said, ‘What about your dad, Ricky?’ Austin said, ‘I’ll take her.’ I loaned him my horse trailer and truck and he picked her up and drove her to Oklahoma. Ricky raised that orphaned filly.”
Ricky Gustafson, Hartman said, is a retired trainer and a former exercise rider for the late Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg. Austin Gustafson is a former assistant to Chris Hartman, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015.
Hillary G (Hillary Hartman’s maiden name is Gulihur) finished third against open company in her Feb. 25 career debut at Sam Houston Race Park for Austin Gustafson. Vance said his connection to Gustafson is through his sister, Trisha, and her husband, Kelly Duncan, who have horses with the trainer, adding the plan was to run her in that maiden race late last month, then the Rainbow Miss. Vance said Hillary G, a daughter of multiple graded stakes winner Even the Score, has been with Gustafson at Lone Star Park since her maiden victory.
Co-owned by Texans Linda and Michael Mazoch, Hillary G has already bankrolled $60,475 in her brief racing career. She was bred by McDowell Farm.
“I’m pretty excited,” Hillary Hartman said, referring to the Rainbow Miss. “Ricky poured his life and love into that orphan, raising her.”
Francisco Arrieta, whose 35 victories in his Oaklawn debut rank third in this year’s standings, will ride for the first time at Churchill Downs during its upcoming spring/summer meeting, the jockey’s agent, Jay Fedor, said Tuesday morning. “I think he deserves the opportunity,” Fedor said, adding he will continue to represent Joe Rocco Jr. Arrieta, who has previously ridden at Canterbury Park during the summer, is among four jockeys to reach $2 million in purse earnings at this year’s Oaklawn meeting. … Grade 2 winner Keepmeinmind “most likely” will make his next start in the $300,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds May 1 at Oaklawn, trainer Robertino Diodoro said Tuesday morning. The winner of the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Stakes, known as the Oaklawn Invitational in its inaugural running in 2019, earns automatic entry into the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, May 15 at Pimlico. Diodoro said Keepmeinmind has been training at Keeneland following a fifth-place finish in its $800,000 Blue Grass Stakes (G2) April 3. Keepmeinmind has spent most of 2021 at Oaklawn, where he finished sixth in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 13 in his 3-year-old debut. … Diodoro said Ava’s Grace, runner-up in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2) April 3 at Oaklawn, was to depart Hot Springs Wednesday for Churchill Downs to run in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) April 30. The Kentucky Oaks is the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies. … Two-time Oaklawn riding champion Terry Thompson recorded his 655th local victory in Sunday’s 10th race aboard favored Rachie Rach ($4.40) for owner/trainer Tim Dixon. … Jon Court (699) is bidding to become the sixth jockey in Oaklawn history to reach 700 career victories. He is named on three horses Saturday. … Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Amy’s Challenge has been bred to Tapit, said Mac Robertson, who trained the recently retired 6-year-old daughter of Artie Schiller.