Letruska among 5 of the best horses to win in Mexico
With her victory in last weekend's Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga, Letruska took another step toward clinching an Eclipse Award as 2021's champion older mare. Having earlier notched the Apple Blossom H. (G1), Ogden Phipps (G1), Fleur de Lis (G2), and Sam Houston Ladies Classic (G3), the five-year-old must now be considered an odds-on favorite to earn divisional honors.
What makes Letruska's path toward stardom so interesting, and unique, is that she began her racing career in Mexico.
Indeed, she was named the champion three-year-old filly of that country back in 2019.
With tracks at Tijuana (Agua Caliente) and Juarez long defunct, Thoroughbred racing within the borders of our southern neighbor is now held exclusively at the Hipodromo de las Americas, in Mexico City. Although no expert on Mexican racing and its history, it's safe to suggest that Letruska is likely the most accomplished Thoroughbred ever to have won a stakes in the "Distrito Federal."
Who besides Letruska are among the most noteworthy horses to have ever won a stakes in Mexico?
Here are four other familiar names:
The fleetest sprinter of her era (1912-17) throughout North America, this legendary filly competed often at the Ciudad Juarez track, where she commenced her career and won multiple stakes. Once toting 146 pounds to victory in a six-furlong handicap at Juarez, she concluded her career with 76 wins in 151 starts.
As William H.P. Robertson wrote in The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America:
She was fast, she was beautiful and she was smart. Serene as a queen in the saddling paddock, she had her mind on business when she got to the post--as other horses milled around, Pan Zareta watched the starter, and when he said, "Come on," she was long gone.
Succumbing to pneumonia on Christmas Day 1918 at Fair Grounds, Pan Zareta was interred in the infield of the New Orleans track, which honors her annually with a stakes named for her. She was a 1972 inductee to the Hall of Fame.
Bred in New Zealand but widely recognized as Australia's most legendary performer, Phar Lap won 37 of 51 career starts. He once won 14 consecutive stakes, including the two-mile Melbourne Cup under 138 pounds. At age five, he won eight of nine starts, his one setback occurring in the Melbourne Cup when asked to shoulder 150 pounds (the winner carried a mere 98 pounds).
Shipped to North America to compete in the Agua Caliente H. on March 30, 1932, Phar Lap won eased up by two lengths while carrying 129 pounds in his first (and only) appearance on dirt. He achieved it in track-record time of 2:02 4/5 for 1 1/4 miles.
Less than a month later, Phar Lap died under mysterious circumstances at a farm in northern California. Like Secretariat many years later, a post-mortem found that Phar Lap had an abnormally large heart (14 pounds), which perhaps explains much of his success.
The subject of a best-selling biography and critically-acclaimed film earlier this century, this Depression-era hero was a two-time champion older horse and Horse of the Year in 1938, when he defeated Triple Crown hero War Admiral in their celebrated Pimlico Special match.
Earlier that season, in search of better luck after a pair of photo-finish losses at Santa Anita, Seabiscuit crossed the border to compete in the Agua Caliente H., then run over 1 1/8 miles. Under 130 pounds, Seabiscuit duly obliged with a wire-to-wire, two-length score while conceding the runner-up 27 pounds.
In addition to the Agua Caliente and Pimlico Special, Seabiscuit's other wins during that campaign were the Bay Meadows H., Hollywood Gold Cup, Havre de Grace H., and a match against Ligaroti at Del Mar.
Like Seabiscuit, Round Table won what was then known as the Caliente H. during his Horse of the Year campaign. Preceding the May 11, 1958, race with victories in the Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park Handicaps, Round Table added the $51,000 Mexican feature to his trophy collection by a 9 1/4-length margin under Bill Shoemaker. He smashed the track record for 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 1/5.
In addition to the Horse of the Year title, Round Table was voted champion older male twice and champion grass horse for three consecutive years. The Hall of Famer won 31 stakes, a mark equaled or surpassed in modern times only by Kelso and Native Diver.