Oaklawn's Apple Blossom Handicap Announces Contenders and Odds for 4/23/22

Letruska looks to defend her title in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap. (Coady Photography)
Post PositionHorse and Morning Line Odds
1Maracuja (6-1)
2Letruska (7-5)
3Clairiere (5-2)
4Miss Imperial (12-1)
5Ce Ce (2-1)

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Letruska Seeks Title Defense in Apple Blossom Handicap

This time a year ago, Letruska headed to Oaklawn Park firmly in the shadows of two champions set to go to post in the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1).

As solid as her resume was at the time, many figured the daughter of Super Saver would play a supporting role in the supposed showdown between two-time Eclipse Award heroine Monomoy Girl and 2020 champion 3-year-old filly Swiss Skydiver. Just as Letruska can be strong-headed during training hours, the bay mare refused to go along with the expectations of others as it was her nose that ended up in front that day, a victory that ended up being a shot across the bow of what was to come from her the remainder of the season.

Now armed with her own championship hardware and lofty reputation, Letruska is set to return to the Hot Springs oval this week with the goal this time around of keeping others from stealing her spotlight. The Fausto Gutierrez-trained distaffer is once again part of a compact field overflowing with quality as she heads the five-horse lineup entered for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn on April 23.

When she bested Monomoy Girl in last year’s edition of the 1 1/16-miles race, Letruska effectively snatched away the mantle of leadership in the divisional ranks. The now 6-year-old mare would go on to win four more graded stakes in 2021, including the Ogden Phipps (G1), Personal Ensign (G1), and Juddmonte Spinster (G1), before suffering an uncharacteristic off day when she faded to tenth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Del Mar last Nov. 6.

That loss did nothing to take away from Letruska’s exceptional body of work, however, as she handily earned the 2021 Eclipse Award for champion older dirt female. In her seasonal bow at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26, she was back to her usual winning ways, scoring a three-length, front-running triumph in the Royal Delta Stakes (G3).

“I think she’s a very consistent horse,” Gutierrez said of his protege. “The Breeders’ Cup, it happened. To go (fractions) in :21, :44 that was probably too much. But that is the past and now we are working toward the next Breeders’ Cup (at Keeneland). We are planning a little bit different.

“This year we’ll be more conservative, not so aggressive. But I’m happy with how she looks and how she’s doing. She’s ready.”

Owned and bred by St. George Stables, Letruska has won 18 of 24 career starts with $2,348,529 in earnings.

She will not be the only champion in the gate on Saturday as Ce Ce, winner of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), will aim to flaunt her versatility once more in the Apple Blossom. The Bo Hirsch homebred prevailed in the 2020 edition of the race but was shortened up for her 2021 campaign, a decision that earned her the Eclipse Award for champion female sprinter after winning four of six starts.

Trained by Michael McCarthy, Ce Ce heads into the Apple Blossom off a victory in the March 12 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn where she defeated a field that included multiple Grade 1 winner Shedaresthedevil.

Fellow Grade 1 winners Clairiere and Maracuja are also part of the salty Apple Blossom lineup with the former taking an allowance option claiming race at Fair Grounds on March 16 in her seasonal bow. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Clairiere won the Cotillion Stakes (G1) at Parx Racing last September and has not been worse than fourth in 11 career starts.

“We’re looking forward to big things from her throughout the rest of the year,” Asmussen said after Clairiere’s Fair Grounds victory.

Maracuja upset champion Malathaat and Clairiere in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga last July but suffered subsequent losses in the Alabama Stakes (G1) and Cotillion. The daughter of Honor Code got herself back on track when she made her seasonal bow at Oaklawn on April 1, taking an allowance optional claiming going 1 1/16-miles by two lengths.