Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from stakes-packed Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland Race Course, the last round of major races leading to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 5-6 at Del Mar:
WHITE-HOT LETRUSKA: Letruska will go on to the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff as an overwhelming favorite after her front-running 1 ¾-length victory in the $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes on Sunday at Keeneland. She took command from the outset for trainer Fausto Gutierrez and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and was never in danger of relinquishing the lead. It was the sixth victory in seven starts for the 5-year-old daughter of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and fifth in a row, with those five coming at Oaklawn Park, Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, Saratoga Race Course, and Keeneland. “This is a horse to change the life of any person. She’s a superstar and she proves [it] every second, every race,” said Gutierrez, who brought Letruska from Mexico to the United States after she showed great promise in her first six outings. Ortiz loves their chances as the Distaff approaches. “She’s doing unbelievable right now,” he said.
THREE OF A KIND: Trainer Paolo Lobo expects to have three horses compete in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships after Brazilian-breds In Love and Ivar ran first and fourth, respectively, in the $750,000 Keeneland Turf Mile on Saturday. In Love, a 5-year-old gelding that dramatically improved with the recent addition of blinkers, chose an ideal time for his first Grade 1 score because his victory secured a fees-paid berth in the $2 million FanDuel Mile Presented by PDJF. Lobo also was impressed by Ivar. He was making only his second start this season and first since a sixth-place effort in the May 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs. He figures to move forward off the Keeneland Turf Mile. Ivar ran fourth in the Mile at last year’s Breeders’ Cup. Lobo also plans to saddle Imperador, a head winner of the Sept. 11 Calumet Turf Cup Stakes at Kentucky Downs, in the $4 million Longines Turf.
DOMINATION: Chad Brown trainees Rockemperor and Serve the King ran one-two in the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday less than an hour before Brown also was responsible for the exacta with Blowout and Regal Glory in the $400,000 First Lady Stakes Presented by UK HealthCare at Keeneland. Some of the credit for the accomplishment belongs to Sol Kumin, whose Madaket Stables is among the owners of Rockemperor. Brown had other plans for the 5-year-old, who had never won a Grade 1, until Kumin texted him to say, “Shouldn’t we think about the Joe Hirsch?” The decision to supplement Rockemperor to the Joe Hirsch, part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, could give Brown as many as four starters in the Turf. They are Domestic Spending, Rockemperor, Serve the King, and Tribhuvan.
ELUSIVE PERK: Trainer Neil Pessin has been chasing a fees-paid berth for Bell’s the One in the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint. Now, he’s got it after his 5-year-old mare rallied for a neck victory against fast-closing Club Car in the $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland. Her 10th victory in 21 career starts pushed her earnings past $1.3 million. “She’s one of the best mares, if not the best horse, I’ve ever had,” said the veteran Pessin. Jockey Corey Lanerie, who has been instrumental to the success of Bell’s the One, paid her the highest compliment when he said, “She has the fastest turn of foot I’ve ever been on.” Bell’s the One finished third behind Gamine and Serengeti Empress in the Filly and Mare Sprint last year.
TWO TO WATCH: Rattle N Roll jumped up for trainer Ken McPeek to capture the $500,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and secure an automatic berth in the $2 million TVG Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance on Future Stars Friday on Nov. 5 at Del Mar. But runner-up Double Thunder and third-place finisher Classic Causeway bear watching. Double Thunder was stuck with the rail for the third time in five starts. “The one hole again didn’t help us. He took too much time in the gate,” said jockey Paco Lopez. Beaten favorite Classic Causeway had the misfortune to draw farthest outside in 13, forcing Jose Ortiz to call on him early to make the front. That took its toll in the late stages of the Futurity. Brian Lynch, who trains Classic Causeway, still liked what he saw. “I wouldn’t think it is off the table,” he said of the Breeders’ Cup.