Personal Ensign Winner Letruska, Sword Dancer Victor Gufo Shine on Travers Undercard

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Letruska led the field into the stretch in the $600,000 Personal Ensign Stakes Presented by Lia Infiniti and held off three hard-charging challengers to prevail by a half-length. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Despite giving her trainer a few anxious moments in the strides before the finish line, Letruska did in the $600,000 Personal Ensign Stakes Presented by Lia Infiniti what she has pretty much always done: go the lead and win yet another graded stakes.

Returning to Saratoga Race Course Aug. 28, where she won the Shuvee Stakes last year, the 5-year-old mare broke from post-position six and was asked for speed by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. By the time the field hit the backstretch of the 1 1/8-mile race on a fast dirt track, Letruska had assumed her usual front-running position, tracked closely by longshot Miss Marissa, Swiss Skydiver, and Harvey’s Lil Goil.

Running through quarter-mile fractions of :23.01 and :46.70, Letruska began to put distance between herself and the rest of the field, but the late-running Bonny South, Dunbar Road, and Royal Flag made a concerted run at her, running three across the track, ultimately failing to catch her.

The odds-on favorite, Letruska finished a half-length ahead of runner-up Bonny South. Royal Flag finished a head behind Bonny South, with Dunbar Road another head back in fourth. Swiss Skydiver faded to fifth.

The Personal Ensign extends Letruska’s winning streak, currently at four. She’s won seven of her last nine, five of them coming at different race tracks. 

“She does all the hard work,” said Ortiz. “I just pilot her. After the Apple Blossom, she was doing something that we didn’t know about her. We always knew she was a nice filly, but she likes to fight. She’s a fighter.”

Letruska was bred in Kentucky and is out of the Successful Appeal mare Magic Appeal, third in the Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga in 2009. Letruska is trained by Fausto Gutierrez.

“The first part of the race was very important,” Gutierrez said. “We take the lead and take the control. Races like this are important to win. I’m very happy because this is a race we put on the schedule.”

He admitted that the late cavalry charge by a trio of graded stakes winners made him nervous.

“This is a [Grade] 1, with very good horses in good form,” he said. “It’s not easy.” 

The Personal Ensign is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, a race in which Letruska did not compete next year. Gutierrez plans to run her at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes in October before heading west to Del Mar, the site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup. 

“She has ability, but more she has a big heart,” he said. “This a special horse. To have this speed and to be able to run long distances, and to have the big heart is special. Not for nothing, I think this is one of the best horses in the country.”

Gufo Earns Berth to Breeders' Cup Turf With Sword Dancer Score

Gufo, inside, held off Japan in Sword Dancer. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Gufo was ready when the real running started in the $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Stakes, and that early jump into the lead at the top of the stretch gave him just enough of a cushion to prevail at the end of the 1 1/2 miles.

Gufo, with Joel Rosario aboard, needed just about all that advantage, too, as Japan and Ryan Moore were rolling right up alongside as they flashed past the finish line. Cross Border was along for third with Rockemperor fourth as Gufo finished in 2:28.30 on firm turf on a cloudy day at the Spa.

Rosario and winning trainer Christophe Clement credited an equipment change with moving Gufo up to his second career Grade 1 victory. He now is 2-for-2 since the addition of blinkers in his previous start.

“I think it was the blinkers a little bit,” Rosario said. “It moved him a little bit forward.”

The Sword Dancer is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf Nov. 6 at Del Mar.

“The race set up perfect,” Clement said. “There was plenty of pace. The stable has been lucky that way this year. This is fun, and it’s the kind of race we like to win.

“He seems to be running better, more mature, with blinkers on,” Clement added. “My only instruction today was, you know, ‘Do whatever you want but not to hit him.” Because every time you hit him, he seems to lug in or lug out.”—Bob Kieckhefer

Gamine Remains Unbeaten in 2021, Punches Ticket to Filly and Mare Sprint

An unexpected downpour at Saratoga Race Course couldn’t dampen the spirits of Michael Lund Petersen as he watched his 4-year-old filly Gamine add another top score to her already impressive record when she won the Ketel One Ballerina Handicap on Saturday’s Travers Stakes undercard.

Grinning through rain-dotted spectacles, Petersen could barely contain a sense of disbelief at what his $1.8 million 2-year-old purchase has accomplished.

“This is the most fun I ever in horse racing,” he said. “I’m just blessed to own a horse like her. It’s crazy.” 

Though being assigned post-position 1 isn’t ideal for a filly that goes right to the lead, 0.35-1 favorite Gamine and Hall of Famer John Velazquez dispatched that obstacle with ease, gaining the advantage and never surrendering it. Estilo Talentoso kept to her flank through the early going, eventually fading to finish off the board in the seven-furlong test.

After stalking in third off quarter-mile splits of :23.20, :45.68, and 1:09.20, 18-1 shot Lake Avenue rallied for second, 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner.

Trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, Gamine ran the seven furlongs in 1:26.61. 

The 4-year-old Into Mischief filly secured an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, a race she won last year, with her 1 ¾-length score in Saturday’s seven-furlong test in New York. The race was part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series.—Teresa Genaro

Yaupon Repels Firenze Fire in Savage Finish in Forego

Firenze Fire, left, tried to bite winner Yaupon. (Eclipse Sportswire)

As race battles go, the $600,000 Forego Stakes on the Travers card at Saratoga Race Course had everything—two horses dueling throughout, a tight finish, even midstretch bite attempts from runner-up Firenze Fire.

Through it all, favored Yaupon delivered, fending off Firenze Fire for a head victory. The 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt sped to the lead, was courageous when tackled by Firenze Fire on the turn, and bravely hit the wire just on top with seven furlongs in 1:21.74 under Ricardo Santana Jr. The Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt-owned runner, trained by Steve Asmussen, returned $6 to win.

Firenze Fire literally tried everything in an attempt to win and was well clear in second. If he crossed the finish line first, he very likely would have been disqualified by stewards for his attempts to savage. Race video showed Firenze Fire briefly snatching a portion of the Yaupon's bridle in his mouth, as Firenze Fire's rider, Jose Ortiz, reached to grab his mount's right rein to get him off his rival.

The incident cost both horses momentum, perhaps most of all Firenze Fire, as Ortiz fought to correct him.—Byron King

Jackie's Warrior Edges Life Is Good in Jerkens Thriller

Kirk and Judy Robison's Jackie's Warrior rated off the pace of 4-5 favorite Life Is Good, passed that rival on the inside when turning for home, then held off the game competitor to win the $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes.

The seven-furlong Jerkens, completed in a final time of 1:21.39, was the second win of the Spa meet for Jackie's Warrior. The 3-year-old Maclean's Music   colt also won the Aug. 1 Amsterdam Stakes for trainer Steve Asmussen. He was ridden to victory Saturday by Joel Rosario.

The Jerkens was the first career loss in four starts for Life Is Good.—Bob Ehalt

Viadera Battles Gamely for Ballston Spa Victory

Viadera eked out a nose victory to return to her winning ways in the $400,000 Ballston Spa Stakes. The 5-year-old Bated Breath mare battled with Chad Brown stablemates Tamahere and Kalifornia Queen and held off the inside bid of Anthony Dutrow-trained High Opinion to take the 1 1/16-mile turf event for older fillies and mares.

“She has an affinity for the wire, this horse,” Brown said. “If you train horses long enough you’ll realize that certain horses know where it is on the winning end and some seem to come up on the losing end. She’s one of the ones who knows where it is.”

It was the sixth Ballston Spa score for Brown, all coming since 2012.—Christine Oser

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