July 24, 2024

Letruska battles back to edge Monomoy Girl in epic Apple Blossom

Letruska comes again to upset Monomoy Girl in the Apple Blossom H. (Coady Photography)

Saturday’s $1 million Apple Blossom H. (G1) promised to be one of the greatest renewals in its storied history, and the Oaklawn Park feature did not disappoint. Only the epic battle of champions turned out a bit differently from the script. Instead of Eclipse Award winners Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver fighting out the finish, it was former Mexican champion Letruska who outdueled Monomoy Girl, as the pair left Swiss Skydiver well back in third.

Trained by Fausto Gutierrez and ridden for the first time by Irad Ortiz, Letruska was moving forward from a head loss in the March 13 Azeri (G2) at this track and 1 1/16-mile trip. St. George Stable’s Kentucky homebred had won her previous two decisively, the Dec. 12 Rampart (G3) and Jan. 31 Houston Ladies Classic (G3). Letruska continued her excellent form on the big stage here as the 3.40-1 third choice, bettors favoring Monomoy Girl at odds of 7-10 and Swiss Skydiver the 19-10 second pick.

Swiss Skydiver broke like a shot to the early lead, but Letruska smoothly overtook her and set fractions of:23.56 and :47.96. Monomoy Girl took up a forward position in third, covering up Swiss Skydiver as the U.S. champions eyeballed each other. Ortiz left the rail open as though baiting Swiss Skydiver, in another dimension of the cat-and-mouse game down the backstretch.

Monomoy Girl was the first to challenge Letruska. Advancing into second at the six-furlong mark in 1:12.26, the two-time Breeders’ Cup champion appeared to have the leader’s measure as they swung for home. Swiss Skydiver, unable to go on with them, dropped back in the stretch.

When Monomoy Girl began to assert and edge clear, Letruska refused to concede defeat. At first, her efforts just looked admirably plucky, but the further they went, the more pressing her renewed thrust became.

Monomoy Girl’s advantage was slipping away, and the 124-pound highweight wasn’t finding extra. Letruska, enjoying a six-pound weight concession, forced her nose back in front on the wire.

“The instructions were: ‘We are the speed of the race,’” Gutierrez told Oaklawn publicity. “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.

“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. 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.’

Clocking 1:43.14, Letruska became the second rival ever to finish ahead of Monomoy Girl. The first was Road to Victory in the 2017 Golden Rod (G2). Monomoy Girl’s only loss in the interim came via disqualification in the 2018 Cotillion (G1), where she was first past the post.

Regular rider Florent Geroux believed that Monomoy Girl was idling a bit.

“Great trip. Just made the lead, she just started wandering around at the end,” Geroux said. “Done that pretty much all her career. It’s too bad we got caught today.”

A lackluster Swiss Skydiver reported home a further 6 1/2 lengths adrift in third. Jockey Robby Albarado was left wondering whether she might have regressed from her big comeback win in the March 13 Beholder Mile (G1).

“I’m not going to fault her by any means,” Albarado said. “She was in a good spot the whole way. It was really a match race from the five-eighths 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, who knows? She’ll come back.”

Monomoy Girl’s stablemate Getridofwhatailesu checked in fourth, trailed by the longshots Another Broad and Chance to Shine.

Letruska had been invincible in Mexico, her 6-for-6 record including a pair of local Group 1s that made her champion three-year-old filly of 2019. The bay romped in her U.S. debut in the restricted Copa Invitacional del Caribe that December at Gulfstream Park, but she was hit-or-miss once meeting open company stateside. Letruska scored in last summer’s Added Elegance back at Gulfstream and reached a new high in the Shuvee H. (G3) at Saratoga.

Since rediscovering her consistency over the winter, the five-year-old is now better than ever with a resume of 18-13-1-1. The Apple Blossom more than doubled her earnings to $1,157,319.

Gutierrez commented on what this prestigious Grade 1 laurel means.

“For me, this is incredible because I come from a small racetrack in Mexico City (Hipodromo de las Americas). 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 is by Super Saver and out of the Grade 2-placed Successful Appeal mare Magic Appeal, who is a full sister to Grade 1 hero J P’s Gusto. Magic Appeal is also responsible for Grade 1-placed stakes scorer Trigger Warning. This is the family of two-time Canadian champion Miss Mischief and Eclipse champion Proud Spell.