FOSTER AND FLEUR DE LIS WINNERS MIGHT DESERVE A DOUBLE TAKE
Closing day for the 2021 Spring/Summer meet at Churchill Downs produced lots of great action and some nice paydays. There were however, a couple of winners in the headline events that certainly deserve a bit more mention. The triumphant trips in the Fleur De Lis and the Stephen Foster were a bit different, but each featured a fantastic display by budding stars of the sport.
The grade 2 Fleur De Lis has long been a spot for the elite females to strut their stuff. First run in 1975, this mile and an eighth now guarantees the winner a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Usually a cast of super models assemble for the race as they are all out to prove who is prettiest after a trip over the main track.
This 46th edition featured a pin-up pony who hopes to become Miss Universe. Letruska came to Louisville as perhaps the hottest of the hotties. Having won five of her last seven races and two in a row, recent victims included the likes of Monomoy Girl (Apple Blossom) and Shedaresthedevil (Ogden Phipps). Hometown debutantes Evoutante and Vault were among the field to vie for the Distaff berth, but after the starting gates opened it was clearly evident who was the beauty queen on June 26.
Breaking alertly under jockey Jose Ortiz, this five year old daughter of Super Saver immediately rolled to the front. Taking command into the first turn, her excellency was visible early. After getting through an easy opening quarter mile (24.53), Letruska quickened the pace in each of the next two quarters (23.66 and 23.17) to establish her clear superiority. Leading by 4 lengths as the ladies turned for home, the stretch run was a dazzling display on the dirt. With plenty of fries to go with her shake, Letruska cruised past the wire an easy 5 ¾ lengths the best without any real urging.
Now with 15 wins in 20 career starts, this Fausto Gutierrez trained five year old can put her name alongside past Fleur De Lis winners like Rachel Alexandra, Royal Delta, Forever Unbridled and Midnight Bisou. If there were questions before this race, Letruska’s run told everyone she is no doubt one of the prettiest girls in the game.
The Stephen Foster also offered a Breeders’ Cup bid to the winner only this was for the highly coveted Classic. Nine runners were assembling for a run in this historic race, but one appeared to be head and shoulders above the rest. The uber talented but relatively lightly raced Maxfield would either be starring as the main attraction or cast aside as a runner with untapped potential. Unfortunate injury had limited him to just seven career starts, but six magnificent wins by this four year old son of Street Sense had given glimpses of greatness. The Foster was supposed to tell us if he was the real deal.
Breaking cleanly under rider Jose Ortiz, Maxfield allowed others to do the dirty work as he relaxed in sixth as the field moved up the back stretch. Solid opening fractions (23.33 opening quarter 48.88 half mile) were no cause for concern as the race unfolded. Trainer Brendan Walsh had carefully prepared his prized runner, but going off at odds of 2 to 5, the pressure to perform was certainly there. One of the best riders in the game, Ortiz understood what was beneath him.
Entering the far turn, Maxfield moved on the outside and bolted to the front. Powerful ground-gobbling strides in the far turn saw him take complete command of the mile and an eighth race in a matter of seconds. Cruising to the wire under a hand ride, Maxfield left no doubt as to who was the best on this day. Winning by 3 ¼ lengths, the margin could have been much more if Ortiz had really asked him.
“He put himself in a killing position and at the half mile pole he knew it was time to go”, says Ortiz. ”I had a lot of horse underneath me, but I knew we had it wrapped up at the eighth pole so I just let him cruise to the wire.”
The ease with which Maxfield flexed his muscles can make us all wonder just how good he is. The big move and powerful turn of foot was no doubt one that raises the eye brows.
“I don’t think you ever expect a performance like that in a race like this”, says Walsh. “But at the same time I’m not surprised because we know what kind of talent he has. I think he is getting better and better all the time and its almost scary. He’s a special horse and it’s a real privilege to have a horse like him.”
These two memorable performances have stamped both Letruska and Maxfield as prime timers for the Breeders’ Cup in early November at Del Mar. Let’s hope they both get there!