Letruska Exits Apple Blossom Victory in Good Shape

Letruska will remain at Oaklawn for the next few days before possibly heading to Churchill Downs, her trainer, Fausto Gutierrez, said Sunday morning, roughly 12 hours after the Mexican champion edged two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl in the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares.

Letruksa earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 102, a career high, for her front-running nose victory under Irad Ortiz Jr. Gutierrez said Letruksa came out of the 1 1/16-mile race in good order, but next-race plans are pending for the 5-year-old daughter of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner and Arkansas Derby runner-up Super Saver. Letruksa was coming off a runner-up finish, beaten a head by Shedaresthedevil, in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 13 at Oaklawn.

“She ran an incredible race,” Gutierrez said. “We lost in the Azeri by a head. Here, we win by a nose. This nose made a big difference.”

Gutierrez said he initially considered wheeling back Letruksa in the $500,000 La Troienne Stakes (G1) April 30 at Churchill Downs, but said it comes back too quick, particularly after a demanding race Saturday. He said shipping to Churchill Downs would still keep Letruska in the Midwest “area.”

Letruksa, after not breaking sharply in the Apple Blossom, was pressed by Monomoy Girl and Eclipse Award winner Swiss Skydiver throughout. After briefly surrendering the lead to Monomoy Girl in midstretch, Letruksa ($8.80) fought back on the inside to narrowly prevail. It was 6 ½ lengths farther back to Swiss Skydiver in third. The winning time over a fast track was 1:43.14. Letruksa carried 118 pounds, 6 less than high-weighted Monomoy Girl, who was beaten for just the third time in 17 lifetime starts.

“I think we’re going to take a little bit more time with her,” Gutierrez said. “The plan is to go to the Breeders’ Cup. We need to check in the middle, which races we can go to.”

The Apple Blossom represents the biggest career victory for Gutierrez, 53, who, like the mare’s owner/breeder, German Larrea Mota-Velasco (St. George Stable LLC), is from Mexico. Letruksa won her first seven career starts, including six at Hipodromo De Las Americas in Mexico City. The streak was highlighted by blowouts in two legs of Mexico’s Triple Crown for 3-year-old fillies in 2019 – Clasico Esmeralda (G1) and Clasico Diamante (G1) – when Letruksa was named the country’s divisional champion.

Gutierrez said Letruksa’s Apple Blossom victory was noteworthy because it made her the first horse to begin its racing career in Mexico to capture a Grade 1 event in the United States. Letruksa, in her Grade 1 debut in the United States, finished fifth in the $300,000 Ballerina Stakes (G1) August 8 at Saratoga.

Letruksa had previously won the $125,000 Shuvee Stakes (G3) Aug. 30 at Saratoga, $100,000 Rampart Stakes (G3) Dec. 12 at Gulfstream Park and the $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) Jan. 31 at Sam Houston.

“She’s a great horse, she’s amazing,” Gutierrez said. “Five years is a perfect age.”

Gutierrez is based in south Florida, where he keeps 12 horses at Palm Meadows Training Center. Letruksa, however, remained at Oaklawn following the Azeri, recording two half-mile workouts in advance of the Apple Blossom.

“Of course, this helped, because she adapted better,” Gutierrez said. “She’s a horse with a lot character. She liked the track. The weather was perfect. Finally, when you have these type of results, everything is perfect.”

Letruksa shipped into trainer John Ortiz’s barn last April at Oaklawn (an allowance victory during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic) and again for the Azeri. Ortiz and his staff helped care for Letruska following the Azeri, when Gutierrez said he returned twice to Florida.

“Johnny Ortiz, he’s a very good friend,” Gutierrez said. “He’s a person that helped me with everything and we spoke about what was better for the horse. I feel he’s part of this win, 100 percent. He’s a young trainer that’s had very good results.”

Ortiz, among Oaklawn’s top 10 trainers with 12 victories through Saturday, said he galloped Letruksa after she arrived in Arkansas, adding she was a “very nice-moving filly” and “fast.”

“We treated her like one of our own,” Ortiz said as he clutched the Apple Blossom trophy late Saturday afternoon. “Nice seeing these type of horses in your barn.”

The victory improved Letruska’s record to 13-1-1 from 18 lifetime starts. She collected $600,000 for her Apple Blossom victory to become a millionaire ($1,157,319. Larrea Mota-Velasco, a copper mining mogul, bred Letruksa in Kentucky.

Shedaresthedevil, co-owned by Staton Flurry of Hot Springs, is scheduled to make her next start in the La Troienne.

Breaking Her Maiden

The last name is Hebert, the home state is Louisiana and the profession is jockey.

Got to be Cajun, right? Wrong.

Lindsey Hebert grew up in Delhi, a town of about 3,000 in northeast Louisiana, 40 miles west of the Mississippi River. While Hebert, 23, doesn’t hail from south Louisiana, specifically, the famed Acadiana region, she does now have something in common with some of its most notable riding products, including Hall of Famers Eddie Delahoussaye, Calvin Borel, Kent Desormeaux and Randy Romero. Hebert is a winner at Oaklawn.

Hebert recorded her first career victory in Friday’s third race aboard Time Heist ($31.40) for trainer Ron Westermann in a 5 ½-furlong sprint for conditioned $12,500 claimers. It was the 12th career mount for Hebert – all this year at Oaklawn – according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Time Heist, under a steady hand ride from Hebert, was a front-running four-length winner.

“I was really tired,” Hebert, with a laugh, said following training hours Saturday morning at Oaklawn. “I wanted to cry a little bit. It was just really amazing. To think that I’d come that far and I’d finally made it. It was an amazing experience.”

Hebert (pronounced the Cajun French, “A-bear”) grew up around horses on her family’s 21-acre agricultural farm, but her only real connection to the Thoroughbred industry was through OTTBs, beginning about a decade ago. Although Hebert said she first dreamed of becoming a jockey around the age of 9, she had never been to a racetrack or seen a Thoroughbred race until approximately four years ago.

“I got into some ex-racehorses,” Hebert said. “I got them off the track to re-train and I just fell in love with them. I was like, ‘You know what?’ I’ve always wanted to be a jockey and I want to do it.’ I want to go. I want to do it.’ ”

Jumpers and showing horses in 4-H competitions led Hebert to Oklahoma after a friend, a former groom, got the aspiring jockey a job on a farm there in 2017.

Hebert said she began at the bottom, hotwalking and grooming, primarily babies. Adjacent to the farm, Hebert said, was a small training center.

“I crossed the fence and I would go get on Quarter-Horses, like match-racing horses,” Hebert said. “I started galloping those and met my fiancée (Andres Cambray). He taught me how to gallop. About six months into that, he was like, ‘Let’s go to Churchill. Got family there. Let’s go.’ I was like, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

Hebert said she couldn’t find work at Churchill Downs, so she went to Indiana Grand and began transitioning to Thoroughbreds by ponying and galloping horses. Hebert said she began working as an exercise rider for trainer Karl Broberg, the country’s perennial leader in victories, around 2019 at Fair Grounds.

After working for Broberg for approximately a year, Hebert spent another year galloping for trainer Greg Foley. Among the horses Hebert said she got on for Foley were Major Fed, who finished 10th in last year’s Kentucky Derby, and Sconsin, fourth in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland.

“It was an amazing experience,” Hebert said, referring to Foley. “Great people.”

Hebert reunited with Broberg for the 2021 Oaklawn meeting – Cambray is an exercise rider for 2020 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox – and rode her first race March 4.

“I didn’t come here thinking I was going to get my (jockey’s) license,” Hebert said. “I just came here in hopes of just gaining more experience and I was working a bunch of horses. The starter just said, ‘We approve you.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ It was a lot easier than I thought. I didn’t really plan on riding, so it was a really big surprise that I got approved. I was like, ‘OK, well I’m going to take the opportunity and run with it.’ I kind of did.”

Eight of Hebert’s mounts have come for trainer C. Blaine Williams, including her first (Sattersfield). Time Heist was making his first start since Westermann claimed the gelding for $10,000 March 6. Hebert said she had been galloping horses, including Time Heist, for Westermann at a local farm.

“I had a really good feeling about him,” Hebert said. “He’d always gone across the board and we had been working really hard. He’d been doing awesome. That’s what we were hoping.”

Hebert came right back in Friday’s fourth race and finished third aboard the Broberg-trained Secret House after leading for most of the 1 1/16-mile claiming race.

“That was even better,” Hebert said. “It was an amazing experience. Really, really grateful for the opportunities I got yesterday. It was very exciting.”

The 5-1, 95-pound Hebert, who doesn’t have an agent, said she hopes to soon join Cambray at Indiana Grand and continue her work in the afternoon.

“I’m in this for the long haul,” Hebert said. “I really want to try and do the best I can. I want to go as far as I can go as a jockey.”

Hebert is named on three horses next Friday at Oaklawn.

Finish Lines

Three-time Oaklawn training champion Kenny Smith won a 36-way shake, or blind draw, to claim Cave Run out of Saturday’s seventh race for $20,000. Also claimed out of the race for $20,000 was multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Gray Attempt by 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. ... Luis Quinonez recorded his 612th career Oaklawn victory in Sunday’s second race aboard Redivivus ($6.20) for trainer Ernie Witt II. … Concert Tour, winner of the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 13 at Oaklawn, will pass the Kentucky Derby and await the Preakness, according to Churchill Downs. Concert Tour suffered his first career loss with a third-place finish in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 10 at Oaklawn.