They were only a quarter of a mile into the nine-furlong journey around Keeneland track, but any potential drama surrounding the outcome of the 66th running of the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (G1) had already been eliminated.
With her ears pricked and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. enjoying the view, multiple Grade 1 winner Letruska ticked off the opening fraction in :24 flat, the equivalent of canter where her early speed is concerned. It is no secret the bay mare has become practically unbeatable when allowed to dictate terms on the front end. So while her five challengers did their best to make things interesting the rest of the way, it was already mission accomplished for the daughter of Super Saver in her last major hurdle before the this season’s endgame.
“She was just moving smooth out there. She didn’t go that fast today but she did it easy, relaxed, and whenever I asked her she was there for me,” Ortiz grinned.
The winner’s circle has been Letruska’s for the taking throughout most of 2021 and that trend didn’t change on Oct. 10. The divisional leader did everything as she pleased during her gate-to-wire, 1 ¾-length triumph in the Spinster, her last major prep in advance of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Del Mar on Nov. 6.
With five straight wins – four of which are Grade 1s – now under her belt, Letruska stands to be one of the heaviest favorites when she heads to California next month and attempts to give her trainer Fausto Gutierrez his first Breeders’ Cup triumph and, by extension, become his first Eclipse Award champion. The only time she has been denied victory this year came when she failed the make the early lead as she tracked the pace and fell a head short of 2020 Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine Shedaresthedevil in the March 31 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn.
Since that blemish, Letruska has asserted herself right to the top of the distaff ranks. Her list of vanquished rivals includes champions Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver, Grade 1 winners Dunbar Road and Harvey’s Lil Goil, and a turn of the tables against Shedaresthedevil in the June 5 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1).
“I think this is a perfect race that she needed to have,” Gutierrez said of Letruska’s Spinster. “With these fractions, she has a chance to relax, to feel the other horses and to have the energy for the end. She’s professional, she’s a strong horse.
“She trained here for three months, she worked perfect, she likes the track. Right now, we just need her to come out of the race in good condition. We just need one more effort, the best effort, because we need to fly to the other coast. But she’s incredible.”
Each of Letruska’s six victories this year have come at six different tracks, a journey that began with her win in the Houston Ladies Classic Stakes (G3) at Sam Houston on Jan. 31. Since returning from Saratoga following her half-length triumph over Bonny South in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) on Aug. 28, she posted two workouts at Keeneland – both bullet moves.
Getting her to harness her energy has been a key part of the mare’s success, which is why Gutierrez made the decision to take the blinkers off Letruska following her fourth-place finish in the 2020 Beldame Stakes (G2). Being able to see and feel her competition has allowed her to better settle into her rhythm on the lead, as was apparent on Sunday when she held a 2 ½-length advantage over Envoutante in second as she reached the half-mile mark in :47.89.
“I tell you, she has a special character,” Gutierrez said. “She knows what she’s doing. Sometimes she gets a little nervous but all this energy she has, she puts into the race. She knows what she has to do.
“Before she ran with blinkers on and we decided to remove them because…the idea is for her to feel the competition because she likes to fight. That was a very important point where she changed and became more strong for these kind of Grade 1 races because she can feel the competition.”
On the far turn, longshot Crystal Ball tried to put in an bid on the outside to close the gap on Letruska but the 2-5 race favorite quickly ended any notion she could be caught, opening up more daylight past the five sixteenths pole before coasting under the wire in a final time of 1:49.01 over a track rated fast.
Dunbar Road gamely got up for second, 2 ¼ lengths clear of Bonny South in third.
“I thought turning for home that she responded really well and maybe I could catch her (Letruska),” said Flavien Prat, jockey of Dunbar Road. “From my position, I was expecting somebody to soften it (the pace) up a little bit because I come from behind, but she had a good trip.”
Owned and bred by St. George Stable, Letruska improved her record to 17 wins from 22 starts with $2,236,459 in earnings. The Spinster was the fourth “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup challenge race she has captured this year, giving her a fees-paid berth into the Distaff.
“She’s doing fantastic, she’s doing unbelievable right now,” Ortiz said. “She’s more calm, more relaxed. Before she used to be too excited and too nervous before the race, but now we just jogged around and she came back quiet. She’s getting better.”
“What else can I tell you,” Gutierrez smiled, “She’s a racehorse.”
Tiz the Bomb explodes late to win Castle & Key Bourbon
Phoenix Thoroughbred III’s favored Tiz the Bomb, who broke through the gate prior to the start of the race, launched a huge run in the final eighth of a mile to draw away by three-quarters of a length and win the 31st running of the $200,000 Castle & Key Bourbon Stakes (G2) for 2-year-olds on Sunday.
Trained by Kenny McPeek and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., Tiz the Bomb covered the 1 1/16 miles on a turf course labeled as good in 1:43.69. It is the fourth victory in the race for McPeek, whose previous scores came with Pineaff (1998), Rogue Romance (2010) and Lawn Ranger (2014).
Heaven Street carved out fractions of :22.94 and :47.54 as Tiz the Bomb and second choice Red Danger tracked the leaders in the second flight.
As the field bunched up entering the stretch, Red Danger surged to the front while Tiz the Bomb was shuffled back. Tiz the Bomb kicked in again at the eighth pole, surged by the leaders at the sixteenth pole and was unthreatened in the final yards.
““It’s not a good omen, typically (when they break through the gate) and yeah, it makes a trainer nervous when it happens, but (jockey) Brian (Hernandez) did a great job wrangling him up and keeping him under control,” McPeek said. “It’s worse if he comes off or something like that. This horse has got a lot of talent and we’re fortunate to have a guy like Brian who handles things on the oval. He does a great job.”
Now a two-time stakes winner on turf, Tiz the Bomb is a Kentucky-bred son of Hit It a Bomb out of the Tiznow mare Tiz the Key. A winner of three of four starts, Tiz the Bomb increased his earnings to $447,841 with Sunday’s $120,000 check.
Tiz the Bomb returned $7.80, $4.60 and $3.80. Stolen Base rallied for second under Flavien Prat and returned $8.20 and $6.40 with Credibility finishing another half-length back in third under Edwin Gonzalez and paying $20.40 show.
Undefeated Averly Jane cruises to Indian Summer victory
Hat Creek Racing’s Averly Jane rocketed to the front after the gates opened and cruised to a 3-length victory in the fourth running of the $200,000 Indian Summer Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select for 2-year-olds.
Ridden by Tyler Gaffalione and trained by Wesley Ward, Averly Jane covered the 5½ furlongs on a turf course labeled as good in the stakes-record time of 1:02.65. It is the second victory in the race for Ward, who saddled Kimari to win the 2019 running.
Undefeated in three starts on the dirt, Averly Jane went right to the front in her turf debut and ripped off an opening quarter-mile in :21.64 and the half-mile in :44.50 while under no pressure and giving Gaffalione his third victory on the filly.
Now a three-time stakes winner, Averly Jane is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Midshipman out of the Richter Scale mare Sh Sh Shakin’. With Sunday’s $120,000 check, Averly Jane increased her earnings to $313,140.