She has raced only twice in her career, but a 2-year-old filly named Landaluce already has been hailed with superlatives and compared with the greatest thoroughbreds who have ever lived.
"I didn't have the opportunity to see Ruffian," said trainer Wayne Lukas, "but a lot of people who saw them both run say this filly reminds them a lot of her. I did see Affirmed, Spectacular Bid and Secretariat, and they awed me, but I don't think I've ever had a horse stun me like this one did."
Lukas purchased the daughter of Seattle Slew for $650,000 at the Keeneland Yearling Sale last summer, believing that both her breeding and her conformation gave her the chance to be an outstanding racehorse. As he watched Landaluce train in California this spring, he became even more enthusiastic. The filly ran so fluidly and easily that the trainer wouldn't even think she was going fast, until he looked at his stopwatch and saw that she was flying.
When he entered Landaluce in a maiden race at Hollywood Park, Lukas called her owner and told him, "You'd better come out or nobody will be able to describe it."
Not only did Landaluce demolish her opposition by seven lengths, but she ran six furlongs in an extraordinary 1:08 1/5, prompting researchers to check whether any 2-year-old in history had ever run faster. (One had, on a straightaway.) On the same day that Landaluce won, a stakes race for older males was run in 1:08 4/5.
A week later, Lukas entered Landaluce in the Hollywood Lassie Stakes, where she would face her first real challenge. She was meeting a very fast rival named Barzell, and the two of them figured to hook up in a head-and-head battle.
Landaluce broke on top, but Barzell took the lead from her after going the first quarter in a blazing 21 2/5 seconds. Landaluce regained the lead on the turn, and pulled nearly two lengths in front, covering the half-mile in a seemingly suicidal :43 4/5. Even seasoned champion sprinters rarely run so fast.
But what happened after that inspired disbelief. The 40,000 people at Hollywood would give the winner a standing ovation. In a Los Angeles bar where the race was shown on cable television, the customers would stand and applaud. And Lukas would say, "It was the most incredible performance I've ever seen."
Leading by about two lengths with a quarter mile to run, Landaluce began to draw away from the field. Jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. tapped her lightly with the whip, and one of the riders behind him said, "When she took off it looked like her feet were floating."
Landaluce was 21 lengths in front when she crossed the finish line. The time was 1:08 flat.
Not since Ruffian's 2-year-old season in 1974 has a thoroughbred of either sex displayed such brilliant speed and precocity. And Lukas is convinced that Landaluce will continue to improve, unlike so many speedballs who make early-season headlines and then become less effective as the distances get longer. "She's not basically a sprinter," he said. "She's a mile and a quarter horse." He believes Landaluce has the pedigree, the conformation and the temperament of a distance horse.
If that is true, Landaluce has the potential to be an all-time great, and Lukas has the responsibility of mapping her future. Just a few years ago, he was training a highly acclaimed 2-year-old named Terlingua, who won a succession of major stakes on the West Coast. The trainer decided to take her East to clinch the Eclipse Award, but Terlingua came home with her record tarnished and the championship lost. Lukas learned a lesson from that experience.
"I'm going to do what is in the best interest of the horse," he said, "and not let any awards influence my thinking." He may send Landaluce to the Arlington-Washington Futurity in Chicago in late August, and after that he will run her in three or four major stakes at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. Because horses are fragile and often unpredictable creatures, it is, of course, premature to predict or even guess what Landaluce might accomplish. But her first two victories suggest strongly that she has the capability to make history before the year is over.