Key contenders for the 2021 Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff will meet at Churchill Downs in Saturday’s $300,000, Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Stakes, which ranks as one of the strongest races of the week (and maybe the year?) even though it’s not a Grade 1 event.
Held over 1 1/8 miles, the Fleur de Lis has been performing like a top-tier race for more than a decade, and it’s rather surprising it hasn’t yet achieved Grade 1 status. Winners since 2010 include champions and/or Breeders’ Cup winners Rachel Alexandra (2010), Royal Delta (2012), Forever Unbridled (2016), Blue Prize (2017), and Midnight Bisou (2020). It’s no wonder why the race awards a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar this November.
Saturday’s renewal of the Fleur de Lis has drawn a small but elite field of six fillies and mares. Leading the charge is #6 Letruska, who ranks as the nation’s leading older mare after rattling off three victories from four starts this season, including top-level triumphs in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap and Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes.
Indeed, it’s hard to knock anything Letruska has accomplished in her career. Her 14-for-19 résumé speaks for itself. Abundant speed has long been her primary weapon, but she’s learned to ration it more effectively this year. She’s no longer the headstrong filly who burned herself out seizing a giant lead in the Grade 2 Beldame Invitational last fall. Certainly Letruska still prefers to race on the lead, but she doesn’t mind slowing down the fractions before kicking on down the homestretch. Just look at her victory in the Apple Blossom, where she carved out a controlled pace before digging deep to beat two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Monomoy Girl by a nose.
But Letruska is facing a few challenging obstacles in the Fleur de Lis. For one, she’s running back just three weeks after a blowout 2 ¾-length victory in the Ogden Phipps. Can she produce another peak effort on such short rest? For another, she’s shifting to an unfamiliar track – she’s never run at Churchill Downs, which can be a tricky racing surface for some horses to handle.
Lastly, Letruska appears destined to encounter a bit more pace pressure in the Fleur de Lis. Last year’s Saratoga Oaks winner #2 Antoinette, a stakes winner on both dirt and turf, figures to flash speed while breaking from an inside post. Grade 3 Allaire DuPont Distaff Match Series Stakes winner #5 Spice Is Nice is also most effective racing up and on the early tempo. And then there’s #4 Envoutante, arguably the biggest threat of all to Letruska.
Envoutante might not possess quite as much pure pace as Letruska, but she’s certainly quick enough to be a factor from the outset. Of even greater significance is Envoutante’s status as a “horse for the course” with an obvious affinity for Churchill Downs. From four starts over the Churchill main track, Envoutante has recorded three wins and a second, including blowout victories in the Grade 2 Falls City Stakes and the Shawnee Stakes. Her lone defeat came in the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes Presented by Twinspires.com, where she finished second by a length behind 2020 Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil.
True, Envoutante finished behind Letruska earlier this year, coming home fourth in the Azeri Stakes. But the Azeri marked Envoutante’s first start off a 3 ½-month layoff, and she was only beaten by 2 ¼ lengths. Envoutante appears to have taken several steps forward in the interim, if her recent 4 ¼-length romp in the Shawnee is any indication.
It will come as no surprise if Letruska visits the winner’s circle in the Fleur de Lis. But if the combination of returning on short rest, tackling a new track, and facing more pace pressure causes Letruska to regress, Envoutante can take advantage and spring a surprise.
For the minor awards, we must afford respect to #1 Point of Honor. While she hasn’t visited the winner’s circle in 25 months, and hasn’t run at all in 2021, the beautifully bred daughter of Curlin has placed five times against Grade 1 company and rarely finishes out of the top three. A pure stretch runner, Point of Honor is the type of horse you can count on to charge from off the pace and pick up a piece of the purse.
In much the same vein is #3 Vault, whose steadily improving form culminated with a rallying victory in the Grade 2 Ruffian Stakes at Belmont Park last month.
Depending on the budget you’ve allocated for betting the Fleur de Lis, we have two wagering strategies to consider. Both focus on betting Envoutante to win while keying her on top of exotic wagers with Letruska in second place.
Wagering Strategy on a $12 Budget
$8 to win on #4 Envoutante
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 5th race, $8 to win on #4 Envoutante
$4 exacta: 4 with 6
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 5th race, $4 exacta 4 with 6
Wagering Strategy on a $24 Budget
$12 to win on #4 Envoutante
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 5th race, $12 to win on #4 Envoutante
$6 exacta: 4 with 6
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 5th race, $6 exacta 4 with 6
$3 trifecta: 4 with 6 with 1,3 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 5th race, $3 trifecta 4 with 6 with 1,3
Good luck, and enjoy the race!