HOT SPRINGS, AR (Saturday, April 17, 2021) – All eyes were on the two American champions Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver, but it was the Mexican champion Letruska who earned a hard-fought victory in Saturday’s $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1).

Ridden by four-time champion jockey Irad Ortiz, Letruska broke a bit awkwardly, but quickly recovered to grab the lead through opening fractions of :23 2/5 and :47 4/5 for the first half mile, while being tracked closely by 9-5 second choice Swiss Skydiver. As the field entered the stretch, two-time champion and 3-5 favorite Monomoy Girl, who had been racing in third, grabbed a narrow lead and appeared to be on her way to drawing away before Letruska fought back along the rail to prevail by nose at the wire in the final time of 1:43 for 1 1/16 miles over a fast track. Swiss Skydiver finished 6 ½ lengths back in third.

Letruska, who was coming off a narrow loss to Shedaresthedevil in the March 13 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn, improved her career record to 13 wins from 18 starts and has now earned $1,157,319 for owners St. George Stable LLC and trainer Fausto Gutierrez. She returned $8.80, $3, and $2.20 as the 3-1 third choice.

Live racing resumes Sunday with a 1 p.m. first post.

Stakes Quotes:

Winning trainer Fausto Gutierrez, Letruska: “The instructions were: ‘We are the speed of the race.’ She started a little bit slow in the last races. I told Irad (Ortiz Jr.), ‘No matter if this happens, you try to move and go in front and set the pace and make the others think: What do you have to do?’ He has magical hands. It’s not this race. He does this all the time. 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. 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.’ For me, this is incredible because I come from a small racetrack in Mexico City. This horse started her career there. We had the confidence to send her here (United States) and she started to improve, improve, and improve. She’s run at different tracks. She’s run at Houston, Saratoga, Gulfstream. She’s a very tough horse, but this is the best result she’s had in her career.”

Winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr, Letruska: “I go the right trip. She likes to be on the lead. I let her go, let her make the lead. She relaxed and I was able to save something for the end. She responded really well.

Jockey Florent Geroux, second on Monomoy Girl: “Great trip. Just made the lead, she just started wandering around at the end. Done that pretty much all her career. It’s too bad we got caught today.”

Jockey Robby Albarado, third on Swiss Skydiver: “I’m not going to fault her by any means. She was in a good spot the whole way. It was really a match race from the five-eighths pole home. Everybody changed positions. She had a great chance turning for home to go on with it and didn’t. Maybe second race back, who knows? She’ll come back.”