Cuadra San Jorge's Kukulkan was a popular and powerful winner in his return to Gulfstream Park, getting a well-timed ride from Irad Ortiz Jr. and dominating his four rivals with a six-length victory in Sunday's $100,000 Copa Confraternidad del Caribe.
The 1 ¼-mile Copa Confraternidad was the first of four supporting stakes on a Clasico Internacional del Caribe program anchored by the $300,000 Clasico del Caribe for 3-year-olds. This marked the third straight year Gulfstream has hosted Latin America and the Caribbean's premier Thoroughbred event.
In 2017, Gulfstream Park became the first pari-mutuel facility outside Latin America or the Caribbean to host the Clasico Internacional del Caribe since its inception in 1966.
Trained by Fausto Gutierrez and sent off as the 1-9 favorite, Kukulkan was wrapped up by Ortiz inside the eighth pole and hit the wire in 2:04.19 over a fast main track for his 16th career victory and the fourth of the afternoon for Ortiz.
Kukulkan joined former Gutierrez-trained stablemate Jala Jala in winning the Copa Confraternidad and Clasico del Caribe in back-to-back years. Mexico's Triple Crown winner of 2018 that went undefeated in his first 14 starts, Kukulkan captured last year's Clasico by 10 ¼ lengths.
Ortiz, the reigning Eclipse Award winner from Puerto Rico, also rode Jala Jala to her wins in the 2017 Clasico and 2018 Confraternidad.
“He's such a nice horse,” Ortiz said of Kukulkan. “He's got so much talent. It's so special to get to ride him.”
Kandinsky, also trained by Gutierrez, and Hall of Famer John Velazquez were quickest from the gate and rolled through an opening quarter-mile in 24.47 seconds pressed by Panama's Fray Angelico, the runner-up to Jala Jala each of the past two years. Justiciero, Puerto Rico's 2017 Triple Crown winner gave chase in third, just to the outside of Kukulkan on the rail.
Velazquez and Kandinsky were still in front after splits of 49.34 for a half-mile and 1:13.73 for six furlongs, when Ortiz decided to make his move. Splitting Justiciero and Fray Angelico leaving the backstretch, they ranged up on the leaders three wide and coasted past, straightening for home well in command and pulling clear down the stretch.
Kukuklan won 14 consecutive races before experiencing his first career defeat in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream in January. However, the 4-year-old son of Point Determined rebounded to win a strong allowance race at Churchill Downs in his next start and finish second in the West Virginia Governors Cup (G3) at Mountaineer two starts later.
Gutierrez was proud of Kukulkan's effort and hinted that a return to graded competition is in the cards for his stable star.
“I think it was an obligation to run in this race here. I think he will run in another level here, back with the strong group. We will stay here and run in the stronger races,” Gutierrez said. “At this level, he is a champion of these horses. If we are being honest, the competition was not tough for him. We have to plan to run here in a good race, maybe a [Grade] 3.”
Ortiz has won seven of the 15 Clasico Internacional del Caribe races contested at Gulfstream Park, including the Clasico del Caribe in 2017 and 2018.
“I just have the support from the owners and trainers; you can see I ride for Mexico and I'm from Puerto Rico. I get a lot of support from all of them – Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama and I appreciate everything they've done for me,” Ortiz said. “Doing well on a day like today means so much. All of my people are here and they go crazy when they see me so I'm just enjoying the moment.”
Rancho La Soledad's Genubi Asquifar ($11) gave Mexico its second straight winner to open the Clasico program, reeling in Dominican Republic pacesetter Best Trebol and drawing away in the $86,500 Copa Dama del Caribe for 3-year-old fillies. The winning time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:46.35. Cacciatora, the 8-5 favorite, finished sixth.
Cuadra San Jorge's undefeated filly Letruska made it a Mexican hat trick in the $85,000 Copa Invitacional del Caribe for 3-year-olds and up, going gate to wire to beat the boys and earn her seventh consecutive victory, this one under Gulfstream regular Emisael Jaramillo.
A sophomore daughter of 2010 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Super Saver also trained by Gutierrez, Letruska ($5.20) set fractions of :25.49, :50.40, 1:14.67 and 1:39.14 and had plenty left to withstand late runs from Bravo Ignacio and Celandine to win in 2:04.01 for 1 ¼ miles.
It was the first race for Letruska since earning her second straight Group 1 victory in Mexico July 20 and first win over older males, though she beat older females in a 6 ½-furlong allowance in April.
“The plan we had with this filly was first to run in the Monmouth Oaks, but she had some issues and I didn't have the chance. After that I nominated for a race at Keeneland and the [Coaching Club America] Oaks, and finally I decided to run here,” Gutierrez said. “I think she's a filly with a lot of potential. She can carry her speed a long distance and I took this chance with older horses off a big layoff. I think she ran spectacular. She'll stay here and train at Palm Meadows.”
Rancho Pozo De Luna's Sacamandu, at 30-1 the longest shot in the field, gave Mexico a clean sweep of the undercard stakes with a front-running triumph in the $115,000 Copa Velocidad del Caribe for 3-year-olds. Ridden by Luis Contreras for trainer Ariel Ruiz, Grade 1-placed Sacamandu ($47) ran six furlongs in 1:10.41.
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