Letruska wins the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 28, 2021. NYRA/Joe Labozzetta photo.

Letruska Puts Win Streak On the Line in Spinster

By Alicia Hughes

Two more races. 

Two more races, and then trainer Fausto Gutierrez can let himself absorb the full magnitude of what the strong-bodied bay mare in his care has accomplished since the calendar flipped to 2021. He understands why others are tempted to look ahead, because so much of what his charge Letruska has done this season is take challenging tests and turn them into foregone conclusions. But no conditioner ever moved forward by gazing too far down the road, thus, the affable Gutierrez isn’t letting his mind wander beyond the task at hand.

“Each race has been more complicated. And we are heading into another Grade 1,” Gutierrez said of the current leader of the distaff ranks. “She’s training good, she’s in good form. We just need two more efforts.”

The first of the two targets Gutierrez speaks of takes place at Keeneland on Oct. 10. In her final prep race in advance of what could be a championship-clinching run in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Del Mar on Nov. 6, multiple Grade 1 winner Letruska aims to run her win streak to five when she heads up a field of seven in the $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (G1) going 1 1/8-miles.

Scheduled as the ninth race on Sunday’s 10-race program, the Spinster is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race with the winner receiving a fees-paid berth into the $2 million Distaff.

Letruska has already captured three “Win and You’re In” contests this season with victories in the Ogden Phipps (G1), Fleur de Lis (G2) and Personal Ensign (G1) Stakes and, barring something unforeseen, the St. George Stables homebred will arrive at Del Mar with divisional honors as hers to lose given she has vanquished every major peer during a campaign that has seen her win five of six starts.

Her only loss came when she was beaten a head by fellow top-level heroine Shedaresthedevil in the March 13 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park and she turned that tables on that rival during her gate-to-wire clinic in the Ogden Phipps. Since being briefly headed in the lane en route to edging two-time champion Monomoy Girl by a nose in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 17, Letruska hasn’t let another foe stick so much as a nostril in her path, earning each of her last three triumphs in frontrunning fashion.

“It (the schedule) is not easy but I decided to be aggressive with her to try and build toward something big,” Gutierrez said of his stable standout. “She improves every day, every day. She’s not a horse who needs to work every seven days because normally when she gallops, she makes the extra effort because she wants to run.

“She knows what she’s doing. After the Apple Blossom, she was growing in confidence. She likes to win, for sure.”

A multiple Group 1 winner in Mexico before coming to the United States in late 2019, Letruska has won seven graded stakes and 16 of 21 career starts with earnings of $1,936,459.

Juddmonte homebred Bonny South knows firsthand how steadfast Letruska is when she gets into her high-cruising rhythm. The Brad Cox trainee ran second to Letruska in both the Ogden Phipps and Personal Ensign Stakes with the latter effort being most encouraging for her connections as she was beaten just a half-length.

Having to share a barn with Shedaresthedevil and the recently retired Monomoy Girl cast Bonny South in a shadow, but the daughter of Munnings has been on the cusp of her own top-level breakout. She began her 4-year-old campaign with a victory at Keeneland in the Doubledogdare Stakes (G3) and her only real off effort in 12 career starts came when she finished fifth in the July 10 Delaware Handicap (G2) when she had pedestrian fractions to try and close into.

“She’s a filly where I’ve always felt like she’s capable of winning a Grade 1,” Cox said. “She’s beaten Shedaresthedevil twice and Shedaresthedevil owns three Grade 1s and was able to beat Letruska before, so it’s definitely possible. And she’s gotten closer to her in her last two runs against (Letruska). 

“She’s a filly who comes from off the pace and those horses are always needing a set up. If we could possibly get a set up, she could be in the mix at the end. She’s one who has definitely knocked on the door, we just have to knock it down now.”

Grade 1 winner Dunbar Road is another who is back to try and topple Letruska, having finished fourth in the Personal Ensign beaten just three-quarters of a length. Trained by Chad Brown, Dunbar Road was third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. In her only other Keeneland start, she ran third in the 2019 Spinster.