It was a business trip and Letruska took care of business – again – Saturday at Oaklawn, becoming just the fourth horse to capture multiple runnings of the Apple Blossom Handicap with a 1 ¼-length victory in the $1 million Grade 1 event for older fillies and mares.
Letruska capped a roughly seven-week stay last year at Oaklawn when she edged two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl to win the Apple Blossom by a nose. Letruska rode the momentum of that victory into an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion older dirt female.
Letruska’s 2022 Apple Blossom itinerary was straight to the point. She arrived Wednesday, jogged two laps the wrong way, schooled in the gate and paddock Thursday morning, polished off four rivals Saturday, including Eclipse Award winner and 2020 Apple Blossom champion Ce Ce and Grade 1 winners Clairiere and Maracuja, and departed Sunday morning for her base at Keeneland.
Before leaving, the speedy Letruska was assigned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 103 for her front-running victory over a fast track. Favored at 4-5 under Jose Ortiz, Letruska ($3.80) ran 1 1/16 miles in a meet-best 1:42.22. The time was the fastest for an Apple Blossom winner since Havre De Grace (1:42.19) during her 2011 Horse of the Year campaign. Clairiere finished second, a half-length ahead of Ce Ce, with Maracuja 17 ½ lengths farther back in fourth. Miss Imperial was fifth. The order of finish corresponded to the final odds – Letruska (4-5), Clairiere (6-5), Ce Ce (7-2), Maracuja (18-1) and Miss Imperial (63-1).
“This was a race that had a very easy form to read,” trainer Fausto Gutierrez said Sunday morning. “The complicated part was the quality of the horses. OK, we are the speed and the other ones come from behind. Ce Ce nearer to us than Clairiere and both are very strong horses. Really, when we entered the stretch I had a sensation, like those two were coming very strong. Very, very dangerous, Ce Ce and then Clairiere. But again, she (Letruska) ran with the class that helped her win an Eclipse, all the races that she won. She ran a very nice race and the top three runners finished very near each other in a very good time. Faster than last year in comparison to other races.”
Gutierrez said Letruska emerged in good order from her Apple Blossom victory and the immediate plan is to target the $500,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles June 11 at Belmont Park.
Letruska coasted to a front-running 2 ¾-length score in last year’s Phipps, which was among her four Grade 1 victories in 2021. Gutierrez said the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) this fall at Keeneland is the year-end goal for Letruska, who finished a leg-weary 10th in the 2021 running at Del Mar.
Gutierrez reiterated Sunday morning that Letruska’s post-Apple Blossom racing schedule in 2022 won’t be as taxing as last year. Letruska’s only other loss in a grueling eight-race cross-country 2021 campaign was a runner-up finish in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles, Oaklawn’s final major prep for the Apple Blossom. Letruska opened her 2022 campaign with a front-running three-length victory in the $150,000 Royal Delta Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26 at Gulfstream Park.
“It’s complicated sometimes to speak about a plan, but the idea is to have less races than last year, especially less trips,” Gutierrez said. “You never know because you can have surprises, but the idea is to go to Belmont (Stakes) Day, to the Phipps.”
Saturday’s victory, Letruska’s 19th in 25 starts, pushed her career earnings to $2,948,529. Gutierrez trains the 6-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Super Saver for breeder/owner St. George Stable (German Larrea). Letruska began her career in Mexico and won her first six starts there, including four in 2019 when she was that country’s champion 3-year-old filly.
Paseana (1992, 1993), Azeri (2002, 2003, 2004) and Zenyatta (2008 and 2010) are the only other multiple Apple Blossom winners. All are members of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
“To win the Apple Blossom twice is great,” Gutierrez said.
Saturday’s race marked the first time that two Apple Blossom winners met in the Apple Blossom since it became a two-turn race for older fillies and mares in 1975. In addition to winning the 2020 Apple Blossom, Ce Ce was an Eclipse Award winner last year as the country’s champion female sprinter.
Anthony Breaks Record
John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs set a single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings by an owner when Plainsman finished third in Saturday’s $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses.
Plainsman, who is trained by two-time Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox, collected $100,000 to push Anthony’s purse earnings at the meet to $1,810,587, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Saturday marked Day 59 of the scheduled 66-day meeting (Dec. 3-May 8).
M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk) set Oaklawn’s previous single-season record for purse earnings by an owner ($1,782,351) in 2019.
Anthony, who races under the Shortleaf Stable banner, was poised to break the record after Greatheart earned $54,000 with a maiden special weights victory Friday for trainer John Ortiz. That purse money boosted Anthony’s meet total to $1,710,587, meaning he needed a top three finish by Plainsman – Shortleaf’s lone entrant Saturday – to eclipse M and M.
Saturday’s milestone came two months after Anthony established a record for career victories by an owner at Oaklawn, 270, when the Ortiz-trained Rolling Fork captured an Arkansas-bred allowance race Feb. 26. The late Sharon Hild recorded 269 victories at Oaklawn. Greatheart represented Anthony’s 276th Oaklawn victory and meet-high 16th in 2021-2022.
“He’s had an incredible meet and I’m sure he’s sad to see it coming to end,” Cox said late Saturday afternoon. “Big meet for him, earnings-wise and win total. Obviously, supported Arkansas racing for a long, long time and he deserves to be a leading owner.”
An octogenarian, Anthony recorded his first Oaklawn victory Feb. 16, 1972. Then racing as Loblolly Stable, Anthony topped all owners in purse earnings at Oaklawn in 1980 ($289,230), 1981 ($281,831), 1987 ($547,810), 1991 ($400,877), 1992 ($597,152) and 1993 ($618,789), according to the track’s media guide.
M and M also set a single-season record for victories by an owner in 2019 (61), with its vast operation built largely on the claim box. M and M started a staggering 220 horses during the 57-day meeting in 2019. Conversely, Plainsman represented Anthony’s 70th starter at the 2021-2022 meeting.
In addition to 16 victories, Anthony has 10 seconds and 10 thirds. He also tops all owners at the meet in stakes victories (three). Plainsman won the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses Feb. 12. Gar Hole became the meet’s first four-time winner with a victory in the $150,000 Nodouble Breeders’ for Arkansas-bred sprinters March 5 and Whelen Springs won the $150,000 Rainbow for 3-year-old Arkansas-bred sprinters April 9. Ortiz trains Gar Hole and Whelen Springs.
Shortleaf entered Sunday as the nation’s third-leading owner this year in purse earnings with $1,724,450, according to Equibase.
Thomas Shelby was scratched from Saturday’s $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses because the connections (M and M Racing) wanted a softer spot, trainer Robertino Diodoro said Sunday morning, adding there is nothing physically wrong the gelding. … Diodoro said multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Lone Rock is scheduled to work Tuesday morning at Keeneland in advance of the $150,000 Isaac Murphy Overnight Marathon Stakes for older horses at 1 ½ miles May 3 at Churchill Downs. Lone Rock won the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes at 1 1/8 miles Dec. 18 and the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes at 1 ½ miles April 3 during the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting. … We the People, a two-time winner at the meeting, “more than likely” will make his next start in the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles May 14 at Belmont Park, trainer Rodolphe Brisset said Saturday afternoon. We the People suffered his first career loss with a seventh-place finish in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2. We the People worked a half-mile in :48.60 Sunday morning at Keeneland. … Apprentice jockey Erick Medellin, who entered Sunday with seven victories at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, will be based this summer at Lone Star Park, his agent, Bill Castle, said Saturday afternoon.