Oaklawn Park was on Saturday the stage for another bravura performance from champion mare Letruska, who led every step of the way to win the G1 Apple Blossom for the second year running. The highlight of the undercard was the G2 Oaklawn Handicap, won in impressive fashion by Last Samurai, who was making his Graded-stakes breakthrough.
Apple Blossom Handicap
Letruska blossoms yet again
She keeps on doing it. Letruska was expected to win the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, but her victory gave us the sort of thrill we associate with the great names. In becoming just the fourth horse to win more than one Apple Blossom, last year’s champion older dirt female joined exalted company in Paseana, Azeri and Zenyatta and earned the right to be compared favourably with those outstanding mares.
The race is easy to describe: the 4-5 favourite Letruska led throughout, dug in through mid-stretch, turned back two challenges and won with a little in hand. That’s what she does practically all the time, yet it’s always a delight to watch, it never gets old.
“We need to enjoy and celebrate her, because she’s one of the great ones in the history of the races,” said trainer Fausto Gutierrez of the mare who is now 19-for-25 lifetime, with five G1s to her name.
The G1 winner Clairiere rallied gamely to pass fellow G1 winner Ce Ce in the closing stages and be a length and a quarter behind Letruska at the wire, a half-length ahead of last year’s champion female sprinter. The clock showed 1:42 and one-fifth, but no-one was looking at the clock, they were looking at Letruska.
“I knew by the way she was running the last eighth it would take a super horse to go by her,” said jockey Jose Ortiz. “When she switched leads she gave me another gear, and I never thought they were going to go by us.”
Next stop for the magnificent six-year-old is the G1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 11, a race she won last year. Champion three-year-old filly Malathaat may be waiting for her there, in what could be a race for the ages.
Samurai puts them to the sword
If Letruska was no surprise, the victory of Last Samurai in the Oaklawn Handicap was something of an upset at 12-1, but there was no fluke about the Dallas Stewart-trained four-year-old’s four-length success.
Last Samurai was always close to the pace set by Plainsman, got a dream run through on the rail around the turn, and took over the lead at the top of the lane before clearing right away to score by four lengths, stopping the clock in 1:49 and two-fifths. The favourite Fearless rallied strongly to be runner-up, beating out second-choice Plainsman by a neck.
“Things set up perfectly for us and he was willing to take on the challenge. What a blast it was,” said 61-year-old jockey Jon Court. “It’s exciting for me at this stage in my career.”
This was the first victory in Graded company for Last Samurai, whose half-sister Candy Raid is a contender for next week’s Kentucky Oaks.
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