Last Saturday races at Saratoga were on fire, these three races are part of the BC Challenge series Win and You’re In, Letruska, Gamine and Gufo earned a spot into the Longines Distaff, Longines Turf and Filly&Mare Sprint.

Personal Ensign Stakes

It was tougher this time, but Letruska was tough enough. She may not be as perfect as the great filly whose name adorns this race, the 13-for-13 heroine that was 1980s star Personal Ensign, but she has won more races and she isn’t stopping any time soon.

Her victory on Saturday was her 16th from 21 starts, her third US Grade 1, and she took the money in the style to which we have become accustomed, a front-running display of controlled aggression that left her opposition playing a game of catch-up they couldn’t win. It wasn’t quite wire-to-wire – Letruska wasn’t away the SAfastest – but she was soon setting the fractions under Irad Ortiz. She was never left alone on the lead, but kept her pursuers at arm’s length, and when push came to shove in deep stretch and the closers came down upon her Letruska stayed just out of reach. She won by a half-length from Bonny South, in a time of 1:49 and two-fifths, with Royal Flag a head back in third and Dunbar Road another head away fourth.

“She does all the hard work,” said Ortiz of the five-year-old daughter of Super Saver, who paid off at $3.50. “I just pilot her. We always knew she was a nice filly, but she likes to fight.

She’s a fighter.”

Letruska’s path to stardom has been plotted by trainer and former racing journalist Fausto Gutierrez, who made her a champion in Mexico and is now on the verge of making her one in the US as well.

“She has ability, but more than that, she has a big heart,” said Gutierrez. “The first part of the race was very important. We take the lead and take control. This is a special horse. I think this is one of the best horses in the country.”

Letruska will now take in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland in October before attempting to live up to her trainer’s not-so-bold statement in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar, for which the Personal Ensign was a ‘win-and-in’ contest. The Distaff was famously Personal Ensign’s valedictory victory, but there may be plenty more to come from Letruska.

Sword Dancer Stakes

Little things can make a big difference to horses, as Gufo has shown in recent weeks. His race before the Sword Dancer was his first over a mile and a half, and his first in blinkers. He won that, and confirmed the idea that headgear and a test of stamina brings out the best in him when winning the Sword Dancer too.

“He seems to be running better, more mature, with blinkers on,” said trainer Christophe Clement, and the more mature Gufo was just man enough to keep his head in front when a late lunge by Irish raider Japan looked very dangerous.

Joel Rosario – who had some day at the Spa, winning three of the seven Graded stakes kept Gufo quiet in the first half of the race, well away from a strong pace set by Channel Maker. When the front-runners began to buckle at the top of the stretch, Rosario sent Gufo three wide for racing room and soon took command, quickening clear into a three-length lead.

Japan, on the other hand, had no room to manoeuvre, jockey Ryan Moore having to switch in behind Gufo to deliver his challenge, which made all the difference as Japan, finishing like a sprinter, came up a neck short at the wire. Cross Border was three and a half lengths back in third.

“He is a top-class horse,” said Clement. “A mile and a quarter, a mile and a half, it really doesn’t matter for him. The race set up perfect, there was plenty of pace.”

Last Saturday races at Saratoga Gufo stopped the clock in 2:28 and change and paid out at $7.10, is now expected to head for the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont in October, before going to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, for which the Sword Dancer was a ‘win-and-in’ affair. This was a better showing from Japan, whose form at the top level had petered out since a stellar 2019. He will also be a Breeders’ Cup Turf contender for trainer Aidan O’Brien, although the Irishman has plenty of others in mind for the race, including Belmont Derby winner Bolshoi Ballet and multiple Group 1-winning filly Love.

Ballerina Handicap

On a day when the biggest names lived up to their names and all but one of the Graded stakes was won by the favourite, the magnificent Gamine, sent off at the shortest odds all afternoon, gave weight and a beating to her rivals in the Ballerina, blazing a trail from the one-hole and leading at every call.

Last year’s champion filly sprinter will also be this year’s champion filly sprinter, and although Gamine has dazzled more brilliantly in other races, this time she simply got the job done with the minimum of fuss. Estilo Talentoso went after her early, and Lake Avenue had a try at her late, but nothing could lay a glove on Gamine, who cruised in by a length and three-quarters in 1:21 and three-fifths. Lake Avenue was second, a length and a quarter ahead of Ce Ce.

“She’s a nice horse to relax. When she’s in the lead, she’s in control. She just kind of waited and then by the quarter-pole, I asked her for what she needed to do, and she got it done,” said jockey John Velazquez of the Bob Baffert-trained 1-5 favourite.

Last Saturday races at Saratoga and Gamine shows us she always gets it done. Gamine’s record now stands at nine wins from ten races, with the only blemish when going too far in last year’s Kentucky Oaks. Now all roads lead home to southern California and the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, for which the Ballerina was a ‘win-and-in’ contest. Last year Gamine won the Filly & Mare by more than six lengths. Lightning may not strike twice, but you wouldn’t bet against greased lightning doing so.

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