Racing Recap: Maxfield, Letruska Win As Expected At Churchill; Zaajel Springs Upset At Belmont

By Richard Rosenblatt

On a Saturday when favorites ruled in stakes races at Churchill Downs and Thistledown, trainer Todd Pletcher celebrated his birthday with a longshot winner at Belmont Park.

First up, 7-10 top choice Letruska went gate-to-wire in a 5 ¾-length victory in the $300,000 Fleur de Lis (G2) at Churchill; a few hours later at Belmont, 18-1 shot Pletcher-trained Zaajel outkicked favorite Always Carina in the $250,000 Mother Goose (G2).

Less than 30 minutes later at Thistledown, 2-1 favorite Masqueparade held on in the $500,000 Ohio Derby (G3); and back at Churchill a little later 3-2 favorite Set Piece won the $300,000 Wise Dan (G2) and 2-5 mighty Maxfield rolled in the $600,000 Stephen Foster (G2).

Pletcher, who turned 54 on Saturday (June 26), sent out the longest shot in field of five 3-year-old fillies, always an unusual event for the new Hall of Famer.

But Shadwell Stable’s Zaajel, under Joel Rosario, stalked the pace set by Always Carina, took the lead in the stretch and won by 1 ¼ lengths. On April 30, Pletcher’s 3-year-old filly Malathaat won the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

Zaajel ($38.80 on a $2 win bet) improved to three wins in five starts for earnings of $228,640. The daughter of Street Sense covered the 1 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.83.

“She ran really big today. She was very comfortable and happy,” Rosario said. “I knew the horse on the lead was the horse to beat and she did it. She ran a big race today. She was moving very well for me.”

For Pletcher, it was his sixth win in the Mother Goose.

Here’s a brief recap of Saturday’s top races:

Stephen Foster

Maxfield swept past his rivals with ease around the far turn and cruised to the easy victory over Warrior’s Charge in the 40th running of 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster on closing day.

The 4-year-old, a son of Street Sense, won for seventh time in eight career starts for trainer Brendan Walsh and owner Godolphin with earnings of $1,265,902.

Racing sixth in the nine-horse field, Maxfield ($2.80) began his rally with about 3 furlongs to go and rocketed past his rivals before taking charge in the stretch and coasting past the finish line.

“It was a really good performance,” Walsh said. “It looks like he continues to improve all the time. Thankfully now he’s been good and healthy. Our goal has been to get a good string of races into him and that’s starting to happen.”

Added winning rider Jose Ortiz: “I just sort of had to stay out of his way. He has a big stride and does it so nicely. It’s great to be back here at Churchill with this horse. He seems to be getting better and loves it here.”

The win clinched an expenses-paid berth into the BC Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 6 as part of the “Win and You’re In’’ Breeders’ Cup challenge series.

Fleur de Lis

Letruska ($3.40) staked her claim as the nation’s top older dirt female with a dominating performance in the 46th running of the Fleur de Lis.

Antoinette was second, and Envoutante third on the field of six. Winning time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:48.57.

Jose Ortiz was aboard for this win, too. Letruska also earned an expense paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup for the BC Distaff.

“She’s a spectacular horse,” trainer Fausto Gutierrez said. “I don’t really like to say what’s next, but she was great today. We know she’s a really nice dirt horse and is supposed to win at different racetracks and different conditions for a possible Horse of the Year campaign.”

Letruska, a 5-year-old daughter of Super Saver, improved to 15-1-1 in 20 starts for earnings of $1,616,459. Other victories came in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on June 5, and against two-time champion Monomoy Girl in the Apple Blossom in April.

Wise Dan

Set Piece ($5.40) weaved his way through traffic in the stretch and overtook pacesetting Somelikeithotbrown and won the 32nd edition of the Wise Dan on the turf by a half-length.

Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, Set Piece covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.50.

“He’s a very nice horse,” Geroux said. “No matter where he comes from, inside or outside, he always seems to rally late. Turning for home, he gave me his best run. I’m very proud of this horse and I think this year is the best we’ve seen from him.”

Set Piece upped his record to 16-9-1-1 for earnings of $433,744 for Juddmonte.

Ohio Derby

Masqueparade ($6.40) staged a solid stretch drive for a half-length victory over King Fury, with Keepmeinmind third, and pacesetting Promise Keeper fourth in the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds.

Trained by Al Stall, Jr., and ridden by Miguel Mena, Masqueparade came into the race off an 11-length victory in an allowance race on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

A son of Upstart, the bay colt won for the third time in a row and will likely move up in class during the summer season.

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