The Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) delivered the electrifying stretch duel that was expected from a $1 million race with two champions.
The two distaff runners then engaged in an epic battle to the wire as the determined mare on the inside would not back down after being passed by the two-time Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner. In the final strides, she stuck her nose in front, and in the last, dramatic bob at the wire, she prevailed by inches over the game and classy Monomoy Girl.
It was an instant classic.
But not the result most observers expected.
The April 17 Apple Blossom was supposed to produce a thriller of a stretch duel between the 2020 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner and 3-year-old champion filly Swiss Skydiver . But as that filly fell back to a distant third in the stretch, at the wire it was St. George Stable’s Letruska , the grade 1 winner from Mexico, who beat Monomoy Girl by a nose to register an upset that seemed far greater than the winner’s 3-1 odds on the toteboard.
“I never dreamed of running at Saratoga and now we won the Apple Blossom. I need to wake up,” said trainer Fausto Gutierrez. “It’s so sensational. This sport is incredible and this is an example of why.”
A multiple grade 3 winner since moving to the United States in Dec. 2019, Letruska came into the Apple Blossom off a slow-starting head loss to 2020 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Shedaresthedevil in the March 13 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn. Off that performance, she was razor sharp for her breakthrough win in the Apple Blossom, where she set the early pace and then bravely battled back in the final furlong after Monomoy Girl edged past her.
“The Azeri was a good race for her and I never thought about not running in the Apple Blossom, even with the two champions,” Gutierrez said about the homebred daughter of Super Saver who has 13 wins from 18 career starts. “This horse started her career (in Mexico City). We had the confidence to send her here (to the United States) and she started to improve, improve and improve. She’s run at different tracks. She’s run at Sam Houston, Saratoga, Gulfstream. She’s a very tough horse, but this is the best result she’s had in her career.”
As she has been throughout her career, Monomoy Girl was gallant, even in defeat. Owned by Spendthrift Farm, MyRaceHorse, and Madaket Stables, Monomoy Girl lost for only the third time in an illustrious 17-race career and had a six-race win streak snapped. In those three losses, he she lost by a nose and a neck and was disqualified from first to second for a questionable foul while earning $4.7 million.
As she is prone to do, she seemed to idle upon taking command. This time it cost her.
“She ran hard. It was a tough beat. I was surprised Letruska came back at her and you start wondering why,” said Monomoy Girl’s trainer, Brad Cox. “I won’t cry about it. But if you look at it, she had a significant amount of ground loss, and while she was beaten by a better filly today, she gave (Letruska) six pounds (124-118). And, hey, she’s 6. I don’t want to say she’s lost a step at 6 but even if you lose a half-step, in a grade 1 race that’s tough to overcome,”
For Cox, Saturday’s result resurrected the painful recent memory of just a week ago at Oaklawn Park.
“I was surprised it was Letruska who beat us. It was like déjà vu with Caddo River and Concert Tour (in the Arkansas Derby, G1) last week,” Cox said. “Everyone said that race was between those two and we beat Concert Tour but (Super Stock ) beat us and we were second. Here it was supposed to be between Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver and we were second to a different horse.”
As for rematches, Cox, for his part, was uncertain of what’s next for Monomoy Girl, but had no use for thoughts of pitting the Tapizar mare against males in the year’s top grade 1 stakes.
“We’ll figure what’s next and we’ll talk it over with everyone and get a game plan. But being honest, watching that race doesn’t make me get excited about running against the boys anytime soon,” Cox said. “We have some work to do against the mares. I hear people say we have to face the boys; we don’t have to face the boys. We’re going to do what’s right for Monomoy Girl.”
In a six-horse field, Irad Ortiz Jr. wasted no time in putting Letruska on the lead and was in front by a length through fractions of :23.56 and :47.96. Monomoy Girl, the 3-5 favorite who broke from post six with Florent Geroux, chased outside her in third, with Peter Callahan’s Swiss Skydiver pinned along the inside in second.
Late on the final turn, Monomoy Girl went after the leader, and when Swiss Skydiver, the 9-5 second choice, failed to fire and finished 6 1/2 lengths behind Monomoy Girl in third, it created the nail-biter of a finish in which Monomoy Girl led by a head at the eighth pole but Letruska was ahead by a nose at the wire after responding to Ortiz’s urging.
“When (Monomoy Girl) took the lead and I saw Swiss Skydiver start to go a little bit back, in my mind, I thought second is very good. We finished close,” Gutierrez said. “(Then) she started to come back and come back. I didn’t see the picture very clearly. I went carefully to check the replay and I thought, ‘Oops, we won.'”
The 5-year-old Letruska was timed in 1:43.14 for the 1 1/16 miles and paid $8.80 to win while adding $600,000 to her earnings and pushing her career total to $1,157,319.
Out of the Successful Appeal mare Magic Appeal , Letruska is her lone graded stakes winner from seven foals to race. Magic Appeal’s most recent foal is a yearling colt by Arrogate.
As for Swiss Skydiver, who exited a sharp 2021 debut in winning the Beholder Mile Stakes (G1), trainer Ken McPeek tweeted she cooled out perfectly.
“She just didn’t fire her best shot. I’m questioning a list of things,” McPeek wrote. “We will regroup and pick a next spot. Appreciate all her fans.”
The 4-year-old daughter of Daredevil ‘s record now stands at 14-7-3-2 with earnings of $2,125,480.