By Bill Finley
Minutes after another easy win by Letruska (Super Saver), this time in the GI Juddmonte Spinster S. Sunday at Keeneland, trainer Fausto Gutierrez told reporters that the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff, and not the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, would be next for his 5-year-old mare. That was hardly a surprise. Gutierrez and German Larrea, the Mexican billionaire businessman who owns the horse, are looking to play it safe. Letruska is simply better than every other filly and mare in the sport and shouldn't have any problem winning the Distaff. The Distaff is an easier assignment than the Classic. Perhaps much easier.
That's racing in 2021. Don't take a chance. Don't test your horse. Always go for the softest spot.
The problem is that she has nothing to gain by winning the Distaff. That is, outside of the purse money, which can't possibly matter to Larrea. She's already clinched the older filly and mare championship and there's nothing that can happen in the race to embellish her reputation. She's 6-for-7 on the year while racing exclusively against fillies with four Grade I wins and has traveled all over the country. For her, the Distaff is pretty much just another race.
She deserves a chance to prove her greatness and that can only happen with a start in the Classic. Win the Distaff and she's just another very good filly. Win the Classic and she can be mentioned in the same breath as a Rachel Alexandra or a Zenyatta.
It may also be her only real chance of becoming Horse of the Year. Should any of the top three or four horses in the Classic go on to win, they will be named Horse of the Year. For Letruska to win the title, she would need to win the Distaff and have an outsider win the Classic.
This year's Classic is loaded. Knicks Go (Paynter), Essential Quality (Tapit), Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow), Medina Spirit (Protonico), Art Collector (Bernardini), Max Player (Honor Code) and Maxfield (Street Sense) headline one of the deepest fields ever assembled for the race. There's also the matter of Letruska's running style. She is a front-runner, which means she'd either have to alter her style in the Classic or go to the lead and risk getting into a suicidal early duel with Knicks Go.
No one is saying this would be easy. As talented as Letruska is she simply may not be good enough to beat the very best males. But the potential rewards outweigh the risks and this terrific mare deserves every opportunity to truly show what she is made of. Is Letruska a great horse? Is she among the best fillies of her era? Give her the chance to answer that question.
Win and You're Not In
The “Win and You're In” program leading up to the Breeders' Cup has been a success. Not only are the races important preps for the Breeders' Cup, but several top trainers have said they gravitate toward these races because a win in one of these races cuts way down on the expenses normally involved with getting a horse into a Breeders' Cup race. Win one of the “Breeders' Cup Challenge” races and pre-entry and entry fees are paid and any horse based outside of the home state for that year's Breeders' Cup will have its travel expenses paid.
Most of the races that are part of the program make perfect sense. Obviously, races like the GI Runhappy Travers S., the GI TVG Pacific Classic, the GI Champagne S., etc. belong. But there are some notable races missing from the series.
Saturday's GII Vosburgh S. at Belmont, which attracted just four starters, is a Win and You're In race. But on the same day, the GI Joe Hirsch Turf Classic S. is not. The Sept. 18 Jockey Club Derby Invitational, for 3-year-olds on the grass, qualifies but the Jockey Club Oaks Invitational, run the same day for 3-year-old turf fillies, does not. The other notable omission is the Grade I races at Parx. The GI Pennsylvania Derby has become a very important race, but is not a Win and You're In. Neither is the GI Cotillion S. for 3-year-old fillies. Both deserve to be included.
Lugo Deserved More Than 30 Days
It was announced last week that jockey Carlos Lugo was suspended 30 days by the Gulfstream stewards for failing to persevere when riding Princess Tereska in the fourth race on Oct. 3.
The race was won by Princess Tereska's stablemate Rubysa (Gone Astray), who was hammered down from 15-1 in the morning line to 5-2. Though a $12,500 maiden claiming race, the six-furlong event handled more than any other race on the card. Both horses are trained by Juan Reveriego.
That the Gulfstream stewards took action against Lugo is commendable. A lot of tracks would have just looked the other way. But, under the circumstances, 30 days doesn't seem like enough. And what about Reveriego? If there was a betting coup and he was in on any part of it, he would certainly seem to deserve some sort of stiff penalty.
Runco, Bocachica on a Roll at Charles Town
Though the West Virginia Breeders' Classic card at Charles Town was overshadowed by the many preps run the same day for the Breeders' Cup, it featured one of the standout training and riding feats on the year.
Trainer Jeff Runco won seven races on the nine-race card, all of them stakes. The list includes a win by Muad'dib (Fiber Sonde) in the $300,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic S. The 4-year-old is 8-for-8 lifetime.
And Runco's regular rider, Arnaldo Bocachica won eight races, a Charles Town record. Bocachica finished fourth in the third race aboard Aaron's Tap (Northern Afleet) for his only loss on the night. It was also a big night for owner David Raim, who had five winners.
Runco is largely unknown outside of West Virginia, but his numbers are noteworthy. He has 4,494 career wins from 20,992 starters, 12th best among all trainers.
Medina Spirit and the Eclipse Awards
If a horse were to win the GI Kentucky Derby, the Shared Belief S, the GI Awesome Again S. and the Breeders' Cup Classic would that be enough to be named Horse of the Year or, perhaps, 3-year-old champion? Normally, the answer would be yes. Four horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Classic in the same year and three (Authentic, American Pharoah and Sunday Silence) were named Horse of the Year and 3-year-old champion. The fourth, Unbridled, was named 3-year-old champion, but lost out on Horse of the Year to Criminal Type.
So what should voters do with Medina Spirit in the case that he wins the Classic? The way things are dragging along with his betamethasone positive from the Derby, it's entirely possible that the matter will be unresolved by the time voters must make their choices for the Eclipse Awards. That would mean that, technically, Medina Spirit would still be the winner of this year's Derby.
Would that mean he should be given credit for winning the Derby, at least until the matter is resolved? Most voters will likely assume that he will eventually be disqualified from the Derby and vote for someone else. But a case could be made that Medina Spirit would at least deserve serious consideration for year-end honors.