It would have been a big day for Irad Ortiz Jr. The winner of the Eclipse Award for top jockey the last three years was scheduled to ride in all 13 races on Belmont Stakes day.
That plan got scraped when the 28-year-old rider was injured in a spill on Thursday at Belmont Park. No broken bones, but he was banged up enough that he would be out for the next two weeks. That meant no Belmont Stakes day and see you later to 13 live mounts.
One of those was to come in the $500,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) for fillies and mares aged 4 and up. Ortiz was named to ride the 5-year-old mare Letruska, who went off as the 6-5 favorite in the 1 1/16 mile race over the fast Belmont strip.
Letruska won the race with relative ease, going to the lead from the start and finishing with a 2 ¾-length win. The Phipps was the seventh race on the Belmont card. It also produced the fifth win of the afternoon by a horse that Ortiz had been scheduled to ride.
The benefactor in the Phipps was Irad’s 27-year-old brother, Jose. This was the third race on the card that he filled in for his brother and the third race he won. He also won the opener with first-timer Wit for trainer Todd Pletcher and the Woody Stephens (G1) with Drain the Clock.
“Unfortunately, it seems every time you get hurt, for some reason your horses start running,” Jose Ortiz said. “They find a way to win.”
Jose Ortiz said he had conversations with his brother about all the horses he was riding in his place on Saturday. The instructions were crystal clear about Letruska.
“He just told me to break good and make everyone chase you,” Jose Ortiz said. “They won’t be able to keep up.”
And that’s what happened. The horse from Mexico blazed the trail to a quarter mile in 23.49 seconds and a half in 46.76. The next split went in a swift 1:10.26 and she came home in a time of 1:41.25.
She was tracked by the Brad Cox-trained Shedaresthedevil, winner of last year’s Kentucky Oaks, but she could not put a dent in Letruska’s lead.
Shedaresthedevil, who was ridden by Florent Geroux, was passed by stablemate Bonny South and Joel Rosario, who kept up the chase. She finished a length ahead of Shedaresthedevil.
With the win, Letruska, who has now won three of four starts this year and 14 of 19 for her career, earned automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November. The Ogden Phipps was a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race.
“I went out there and got my butt kicked,” Geroux said. “Simple as that. That filly was superior. I was right beside her, and, at the half-mile, my filly couldn’t keep up with her.”
“The favorite looked like she had everything her own way,” Rosario said. “The horse on the lead … she just kept going.”
“We had good trips, but we were just overmatched,” Cox said. “We got beat by a better horse.”
Cox had seen Letruska earlier this year when his highly touted Monomoy Girl got beat by a nose in the Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn Park on April 17.
When asked how difficult it is to get by Letruska when she gets to the lead, Cox chuckled a little.
“It was pretty damn tough today,” he said. “She was impressive and we really didn’t have any excuses. We had nothing for her.”
Irad Ortiz rode Letruska for the first time in the Apple Blossom.
On Saturday, his brother said the daughter of Super Saver, that is owned by St. George Stable, did everything comfortably. He said he had to ask her for more inside the eighth pole, and Letruska responded with enthusiasm. He expected that when he got back to the jockey’s room, he would have a text message waiting for him from Irad.
“This is back-to-back Grade 1 wins,” said Fausto Gutierrez, Letruska’s trainer and the leading conditioner in Mexico. “She showed her potential. This is a speed horse that can run long distances. She confirmed what we saw in the Apple Blossom. She is a very sound filly and I hope she continues like this.”
Letruska paid $4.40, $2.70 and $2.10. Bonny South, paid $2.90 and $2.20 and Shedaresthedevil paid $2.10. Queen Nekia and Water White completed the order of finish.
The race lost some of its star power when Swiss Skydiver and Valiance were both declared out of the race because of elevated temperatures.
“I don’t like that to happen because it could happen with any horse,” Gutierrez said. “But, in strategy, I would prefer not to have those horses in there.”