Gutierrez Retains Full Confidence In Letruska

Letruska and Fausto Gutierrez | Sarah Andrew


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – By trainer Fausto Gutierrez's calculation, a clunker every once in a while surely does not tarnish champion Letruska (Super Saver)'s glittering string of accomplishments.

When last seen in competition, the 6-year-old mare was running last as the 3-5 favorite in the GI Ogden Phipps S. June 11 at Belmont Park. As usual, she set the pace, but on that afternoon could not finish and was passed by the four others in the field. Gutierrez said that Letruska wasn't herself that afternoon, possibly a nervous reaction to shipping from Kentucky.

“She had a bad race at New York, on Belmont Day,” he said. “But I think this is part of the game.”

Letruska returned to Saratoga this week to see if she can win the GI Personal Ensign S. for the second consecutive year. Two horses have won the race twice: Politely in 1967-68 and Beautiful Pleasure in 1999-2000. She handled the Personal Ensign challenge in 2021, edging Bonny South (Munnings) by a half-length. It was the fourth of five straight graded-stakes victories that carried her to the Eclipse Award for the older female dirt division. Gutierrez said she looks good to him for the nine-furlong race.

“She has come in in very good form and I think she's ready to show it,” he said. “I'm very happy how she's trained and [she] is ready to go.”

Letruska's championship season of six wins and a second in eight starts with earnings of $1.9 million ended with a distant 10th in the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff. That day at Del Mar, she hooked up in a speed duel with Private Mission (Into Mischief)  through brutally fast fractions of 21.84, 44.97 and 1:09.70. The Japanese mare Marche Lorraine (Jpn) (Orfevre {Jpn}) was the lucky beneficiary and held off Dunbar Road (Quality Road) by a nose at 49-1. Private Mission was the only horse Letruska beat that day.

“With that that kind of rhythm or pace for the race, of course, it would help if she's in the middle,” Gutierrez said, noting that horses that go that fast early in a 1 1/8-mile race aren't typically in contention at the end.

“When you are a trainer, you see how it started and you are just waiting for the fractions,” he said. “When you see :21, :22 you know that the race is finished for you.”

Letruska started the 2022 season on Feb. 26 at Gulfstream Park and led from gate to wire in the GIII Royal Delta S. by three lengths. She followed that success with a 1 1/4-length win over Clairiere (Curlin) in the GI Apple Blossom H. Apr. 22 at Oaklawn Park. The Phipps, which she won handily in 2021, was her next start.

“We need to remember to she has been five years in a row running. We have two, three, four, five and now six,” Gutierrez said. “Before the Belmont race, she had one of the most spectacular races that she's had, the second Apple Blossom she won in a row. Big numbers with I think the second- or third-fastest time in the history for the Apple Blossom. And after we had a bad race.”

Gutierrez said that he and his crew noticed that she didn't seem herself in the days leading up to the Phipps.

“She's a very temperamental horse. She's very special,” he said. “And when we arrived to Belmont, she was a little bit [depressed]. It's complicated sometimes to scratch a horse like her. It's not an excuse, but when you live with a horse five years in a row you know when it's not the same horse you know. Something like this happens. I repeat, it is not an excuse. The fractions for that race, the quality for the horses to run in these is the high level and she's a horse who wins and has lost races. That day we had a bad start. Like when you are a pitcher in baseball and one day in the second inning you go out. But you won 19 games before.”

Gutierrez smiled as he used the baseball analogy. He was referring to Letruska's career record of 19 wins in 26 starts.

Since the Phipps, Letruska has worked seven times at Churchill Downs. Four of the breezes were the fastest of the day at the distance. In Friday, she breezed a half-mile in :48, the third- fastest of 107 works that morning.

Gutierrez said that Letruska traveled well from Kentucky and that jockey Gabriel Lagunes, who has ridden her in training this week, told him she is a different horse from the one he was up in June at Belmont Park. Gutierrez said the St. George Stable homebred is ready for the Personal Ensign, which he acknowledged is another stiff assignment.

“She hasn't had an easy race in the last two years,” Gutierrez said. “She just runs [in graded stakes] and races where she is the focus. We run with the most high-quality horses: Clairiere, Malathaat (Curlin), Search Results (Flatter). Any one that wants to run in that group is a tough horse.”

Gutierrez said that he likes Letruska's chances in the $600,000 Personal Ensign. She drew the rail in the field of five.

“I do I have the feeling and the perception that we can see again the same Letruska,” he said. “She has a lot of people who follow her and like her form, that she fights every single race.”

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