SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Putting her class and ability on display yet again, St. George Stable homebred Letruska led from start to finish and turned away a bevy of late challengers to solidify her position as the country’s top older female with a thrilling half-length triumph in Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infiniti at Saratoga Race Course.
A “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1, $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff November 6 at Del Mar, the 74th running of the Personal Ensign for older fillies and mares was the fifth of seven graded-stakes and fourth of six Grade 1 events worth a total of $4.6 million in purses on a blockbuster program highlighted by the 152nd renewal of the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.
Ridden by Irad Oritz, Jr. for trainer Fausto Gutierrez, Letruska logged 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.15 over a fast main track and returned $3.50 on a $2 win bet. It was the third win of the day and first in the Personal Ensign for Ortiz, Jr., voted the Eclipse Award as champion jockey each of the past three years.
Each of her last three wins have come in Breeders’ Cup Distaff challenge races. She was dominant in her prior start, the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis June 26 at Churchill Downs, which came just three weeks after winning the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park with relative ease.
“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, Jr. said. “We always knew she was a nice filly, but she likes to fight. She’s a fighter.”
Letruska would need to call on that tenacity in the Personal Ensign. Each of her eight opponents were graded-stakes winners including Swiss Skydiver, historic heroine of the Grade 1 Preakness against males last fall, who outbroke Letruska and held a short lead until Ortiz, Jr. put his 5-year-old mare in front after an opening quarter-mile in 23.01 seconds tracked by 42-1 long shot Miss Marissa.
“The first part of the race was very important. We take the lead and take the control,” Gutierrez said. “Finally, she take control running, it was 46 [for the half-mile] and I think today it was a good fraction. For sure, after that she had to be running. Races like this are important to win. I’m very happy because this is a race we put on the schedule.”
Letruska continued to roll on the front end through splits of 46.74 seconds and 1:10.76 as Miss Marissa and Swiss Skydiver remained heads apart in behind as Harvey’s Lil Goil began to gain momentum in the clear four wide. Letruska straightened for home with a one-length lead over Dunbar Road, who had closed from dead last to move into a threatening position on the inside.
Digging in through the lane with each stride, Letruska held firm up front as Bonny South joined the group of challengers inside the eighth pole, splitting horses and emerging from a three-way photo finish a head in front of Royal Flag for second. Dunbar Road checked in fourth, followed by Swiss Skydiver, As Time Goes By, Harvey’s Lil Goil, Miss Marissa and Graceful Princess.
“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 run. Every place that she’s run, with all the horses she run against, she’s fast. She fights and she’s a real racehorse.”
Letruska picked up $320,000 for her 16th career victory from 21 starts to close in on $2 million in lifetime purse earnings at $1,936,459. She is a head shy of being undefeated through six starts this year, but rebounded from her lone loss in the Grade 2 Azeri March 13 at Oaklawn Park by defeating champion Monomoy Girl by a nose in Oaklawn’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom April 17.
In all, Letruska has won nine graded-stakes including the Group 1 Clasico Diamente and Group 1 Clasico Esmerelda in Mexico prior to her first U.S. start, a victory in the Copa Invitacional del Caribe in December 2019 at Gulfstream Park. The daughter of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver was bred in Kentucky.
Gutierrez said the plan calls for Letruska to run next in the Grade 1, $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster October 10 at Keeneland as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
“She has ability, but more she has a big heart. This a special horse,” he said. “To have this speed and to be able to run long distances, and to have the big heart is special. Not for nothing, I think this is one of the best horses in the country.”
Contested as the Firenze Handicap from 1948-85 and the John A. Morris Handicap from 1986-97, the Personal Ensign was renamed to honor Odgen Phipps’ homebred mare that was retired following her dramatic victory in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff that left her with a perfect 13-0 race record. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993 followed by her trainer, Shug McGaughey, in 2004.
Sunday will feature a 10-race card at Saratoga headlined by the $120,000 Better Talk Now for 3-year-olds that have never won a stake at a mile or more, scheduled for eight furlongs over the inner turf course in Race 9 at 5:39 p.m. Eastern. First post is 1:05 p.m.
Saratoga Race Course Press Release
Photo: Letruska, (NYRA Photo)