Life’s a breeze for Horgan, Letruska

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Roger Horgan knows you saw Letruska’s breeze at Del Mar Saturday morning. The one where the Breeders’ Cup Distaff favorite hooked up with another horse for much of the way and then let that rival-for-a-day gallop away in the stretch.

Horgan, the man with the reins in his hands, would also like you to forget about it.

“The world is talking about this breeze, but it was just bad circumstances,” said Horgan, a veteran exerciser rider who works for trainer Brendan Walsh and has been Letruska’s rider at Del Mar. “Turning up the backstretch I was watching that guy with the pony on the outside rail and thinking, ‘Please don’t do what I think you’re going to do.’ Needless to say, bang, that’s what he did.”

On the inside, Letruska went right past early, opened a length or so, then got challenged. On a long rein, with Horgan high in the saddle, she sped around the turn in company and finished out her 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 as the other horse (2-year-old filly Brandons’mylawyer) went on through the lane to complete a half-mile move in :47.20. Horgan and trainer Fausto Gutierrez wouldn’t have drawn up the mare’s final breeze before a Grade 1 race that way, but nobody’s changing history. Besides, Horgan said Letruska worked exactly the way they planned.

“I did what I what I was asked to do and that was to not ask her for anything,” Horgan said. “He said :49 [for a half], 1:01 or 1:02 [for 5 furlongs]. We didn’t need to do much. She’s been running all year. I was proud of her because she didn’t fight me. She did what she was supposed to do. She jumped on it for a second, and you can imagine what I said to the guy next to me – you can’t print it. But we just went about our business and she did exactly what everybody wanted.”

Horgan works for Walsh and has been plenty of the barn’s top horses lately, but can also lean on a deep background of decades working with racehorses in Ireland and the United States. He rode jump races, worked for trainer Tom Voss, rode regularly for Kiaran McLaughlin and was a trainer. Horgan became Letruska’s rider for Breeders’ Cup Week when Gutierrez mapped out a plan after the daughter of Super Saver won the Spinster at Keeneland in October. With one horse going to Del Mar, and most of his string staying in Kentucky, Gutierrez needed a rider. Horgan was headed to California with the Walsh-trained Extravagant Kid (Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint) and Zofelle (a contender in the Goldikova Stakes on Saturday’s undercard).

Gutierrez asked Walsh assistant Paul Madden if Horgan was going to be busy in California.

“We were taking two horses, so I was not going to be busy,” Horgan said. “Fausto asked me if I could get on her. She was on the same flight as our horses and we’re stabled in the same barn [at Del Mar] so it worked out well.”

Of course, Horgan knew what he was getting into. He’d seen Letruska, whose breeze listing at shows nine bullet works at four tracks since March, train and also watched her win six of seven starts (all graded stakes) this year and build herself into a force in the older filly/mare division. Letruska defeated Monomoy Girl in the Apple Blossom in April to start a five-race winning streak which includes Grade 1 scores at Belmont, Saratoga and Keeneland. Owned and bred by St. George Stable, she is a head, a second to Saturday rival Shedaresthedevil, from winning eight in a row.

“I knew her and was aware of her by reputation and I had seen her train and seen her train quite aggressively,” Horgan said. “It was a little bit of the old, ‘Be careful what you wish for’ kind of thing.”

Some input from Gutierrez helped with the learning curve.

“He said to just try to be as quiet as you can on her,” Horgan said. “You can feel it. You could pull the pin out of the grenade very quickly and be gone. If you sit as quiet as a church mouse, she’s smart enough to figure out that you’re not going to get in a fight with her. And she’s been very, very rideable.”

Horgan doesn’t have much to go on, but loves the way she has trained at Del Mar and said she feels even better since the aforementioned breeze. The bay mare, undefeated in six starts in Mexico to start her career in 2018-19, could win the Eclipse Award as champion older female without adding the Distaff. Win again and she might get some Horse of the Year votes. she faces 10 others in the $2 million Distaff, Saturday’s 10th race, and is 8-5 on the morning line. Irad Ortiz Jr. gets the ride in the 1 1/8-mile race against the likes of top 3-year-old filly Malathaat, Chad Brown-trained runners Royal Flag and Dunbar Road and Shedaresthedevil who has won her last two since finishing second to Letruska at Belmont in June.

“We can all look at the form and say she’s had a long campaign,” Horgan said. “Can she do it again? I’d like to be able to compare her to what she felt like all year, but I can’t do that. I can only tell you how she feels to me, and I wouldn’t have any complaints.”

As a jump jockey, Horgan won the 4-mile Virginia Gold Cup timber stakes, and captured the 3-mile My Lady’s Manor four times. He rode hurdle winners at Saratoga, defeated future Hall of Famer McDynamo at Pimlico in 2002. While working for McLaughlin, Horgan rode some of the best horses in the world including 2015 Distaff favorite Wedding Toast. All these years later, Horgan appreciates the chance to still ride good horses.  

“It’s nice being around those kind of horses,” he said. “If they asked me to do this 20 years ago, I’d have probably been a knucklehead about it. But they’re the ones you want to get on. It’s an honor.”

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Hey Roger Horgan, while we’ve got you, how about the Brendan Walsh runners, Extravagant Kid (12-1 in the Turf Sprint) and Zofelle (6-1 in the Goldikova)?
“You’ve never in your life been around a horse as smart as Extravagant Kid. We have a joke that we’re going to walk into the barn one morning and he’s going to speak. He’s been sleeping for two days. He will sleep 13, 14 hours a day. Maybe that’s why he’s still going so well at age 8. I guess it’s a very, very tall ask for the Kid, but he raced his way here. He’s got to break from the outside again. He was 14 of 14 last year and was way outside the whole way and got beat a length. That was 5 1/2 [furlongs] so maybe the 5 is too short, but we’ll see. He had a super work on the course.

“And the filly in the Goldikova is going to fire one, now. She’s in a tough spot too, but she’s in good form.”

And how do you like your first exposure to Del Mar?
“You know how some people always ask you, ‘What’s your favorite racetrack?’ I’ll be, ‘That’s easy, Saratoga . . . then Keeneland.’ And then they say, ‘Well, you’ve never been to Del Mar.’ And I say, ‘You California people are always on about that.’ I got here two weeks ago and it didn’t take me two minutes to fall in love with the place. It’s absolutely special, everything about it.”