Letruska vs. Malathaat will be the clash of champions

Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The Belmont Stakes might be the test of the champion, but this year the Ogden Phipps will be the clash of champions.

Letruska and MalathaatLast year’s Eclipse Award winners as Best Older Dirt Bitch and Best 3-Year-Old Filly, respectively, are set for a titanic battle in the Grade 1 race at Belmont Park as part of a formidable card Belmont Stakes day.

It’s far from a two-horse race in the Ogden Phipps, as top mares Clairiere, Search Results and Bonny South are expected, and Ce Ce and Royal Flag may even join the fray. But do not get me wrong. This busy race starts with Letruska and Malathaat.

This will actually be the two champions’ second meeting, but for suicidal early pace reasons for Letruska, a first encounter with older horses for Malathaat and a first trip west to California for both, the injury of 2 million dollars from the Breeders’ Cup Distaff until not highlighting either excellent female.

The fact that neither Letruska nor Malathaat won this afternoon in Del Mar was completely irrelevant, as they win almost everything else.

Letruska, a fast 6-year-old daughter of Super Saver, has won 19 of 25 in her lifetime. It took her a few runs to go from Mexican sensation to American star, but when she did it for trainer Fausto Gutierrez, it’s been mostly smooth sailing ever since.

Malathaat, trained by Todd Pletcher, did not need such a transition. Born of the gods, the daughter of Curlin and Dreaming of Julia is a head and a half away from being perfect in nine career starts. While it’s true that she was beaten in the Breeders’ Cup and the CCA Oaks (G1), none of those narrow defeats did anything to detract from her lofty reputation.

On paper, Saturday’s Ogden Phipps is shaping up to be one of the races of the year. While Letruska and Malathaat have the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland as their endgame, Saturday’s big race at “Big Sandy” is here and now.

Before Phipps’ showdown can meet the standards of past great distaff upsets like Beholder vs. Songbird and Blind Luck vs. Havre de Grace, the current stars of the distaff ensemble must both bring their “A” games. .

There’s every reason in the world to believe it will happen. If their stellar track records aren’t enough to convince, consider a little more evidence:

* Both mares have returned to racing and winning in 2022. Letruska is 2 for 2, wiring the field in both the Royal Delta (G3) at Gulfstream Park and the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn Park. Malathaat won their comeback in relentless Malathaat style in the Doubledogdare (G3) at Keeneland.

* Letruska and Malathaat are familiar with the 8 1/2 stadia journey of the Ogden Phipps. The 6-year-old has won seven times at this distance, including her two starts this year. Her youngest rival is 2 for 2 from distance, including her victory in the Doubledogdare.

* Both champions know the main track at Belmont Park well. Letruska is the impressive defending champion of the race. Malathaat is based there and won his career debut on America’s biggest oval.

Letruska demonstrates that a great champion can come from anywhere, while Malathaat is a true American blueblood.

The stage is set. It will be Letruska’s demoralizing muzzle velocity against Malathaat’s unmistakable stretching push.

Top riders Jose Ortiz and Johnny Velazquez will be very aware of their fearsome competition. Velazquez will need to make sure Letruska doesn’t stray from her mount, while Ortiz will need to save enough for the training to hold up to Malathaat’s impending charge.

Two sensational champions, surrounded by a strong supporting cast, the Ogden Phipps have all the trappings of a classic.

Letruska and Malathaat, unlike many headliners on the huge Belmont Stakes day card, are tried and tested products. Both mares regularly collect graduated stakes wins at the highest level. They already have their championships and they look set for more.

The only thing that stands in their way is each other. It’s sports. That’s what horse racing should be.

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