- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2007

ELMONT, N.Y. — The moment trainer Todd Pletcher announced he was entering the filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes, he began to read and hear all the statistics.

No filly had won the Belmont in 102 years.

No filly had won the Belmont at its current distance of a mile-and-a-half.

And no filly had won a Triple Crown race in 19 years.

“That was pretty intimidating stuff,” Pletcher said.



Throw in Pletcher’s 0-for-28 record in Triple Crown races and Rags to Riches’ stumble out of the gate and the chance at history yesterday appeared remote.

But just as quickly as she lost her momentum, Rags to Riches regained her composure and was steered outside by jockey John Velazquez. And when it came time to run, she rolled to the lead, out-dueled Curlin down the stretch and won the Belmont by a head to thrill the crowd of 46,870 and cap a sensational Triple Crown season.

“The only thing we could go by was how well the filly was doing and training,” Pletcher said of the decision to enter Rags to Riches. “And I always kept going back to the pedigree. This race is a test of endurance and there was no doubt she would get the distance. Whether she was good enough to do it against quality horses was the million dollar question.

“We took our shot and it worked out well.”

Tanya (1905) was the last filly to win the Belmont, Winning Colors (1988 Kentucky Derby) the last girl to win a classic and Rags to Riches only the 10th female victor in Triple Crown history.

Tiago was third followed by Hard Spun, C P West, Imawildandcrazyguy and Slew’s Tizzy. Rags to Riches’ winning time was 2 minutes, 28.74 seconds and she returned $10.60, $4.40 and $3.20 as the second favorite.

Pletcher’s Triple Crown season started with disappointment when he entered five horses in the Kentucky Derby only to come away empty-handed.

“Maybe that’s been my problem,” he said. “I was looking at the wrong gender to help me win a Triple Crown race.”

It was fitting that Velazquez and Michael Tabor helped Pletcher get his first classic win. The Velazquez-Pletcher team has dominated New York racing in recent years and Tabor was the first owner to give Pletcher horses once he started his own stable in the late 1990s.

And it wouldn’t have been possible had Street Sense not been removed from consideration.

“The fact Street Sense wasn’t running helped our decision,” Tabor said. “We would not have taken the three colts on.”

The other two colts were Curlin and Hard Spun, who ran in each leg of the Triple Crown.

But Hard Spun — with new rider Garrett Gomez aboard — faded even though he got a favorable pace and Curlin didn’t have enough energy to pass a filly who had five weeks of rest and was carrying five fewer pounds.

“Todd is very deserving,” Curlin trainer Steve Asmussen said. “She ran a great race on the right day. We lost one the same exact way we won [the Preakness].”

Velazquez, who won his first Triple Crown race in 21 attempts, asked out of his ride aboard Slew’s Tizzy earlier this week to ride Rags to Riches for the first time. Gomez had been on Rags to Riches for all four of her wins, but he couldn’t get out of his commitment to Hard Spun.

Starting from the outside post position, Rags to Riches got off to a shaky start.

“As soon as she stumbled, my heart stopped,” Velazquez said. “The first thing I thought was I hope she wasn’t hurt. Right after that, I thought it was a good thing the race was a mile-and-half. She got herself together going through the first turn.”

The early fractions kept five horses together in a big bunch. The first quarter was 24.74 seconds, the first half-mile 50.14 seconds and the first three-quarters 1:15.32 (nearly six seconds slower than the Preakness).

C P West, Slew’s Tizzy and Hard Spun were 1-2-3 down the backstretch, stalked closely by Rags to Riches (outside) and Curlin (inside). Rags to Riches was taken four-wide early in the race by Velazquez to avoid getting dirt kicked in her face.

“That way, she was galloping along and not wasting any energy,” Velazquez said.

Midway through the second turn, Rags to Riches started her run for history. Fifth after a mile, she surged to first with a quarter mile remaining. Curlin moved from fourth to second and a new duel was on.

Curlin drew even at midstretch ,but Rags to Riches had more acceleration, nudging ahead for good. She joins half-brother Jazil and father A.P. Indy as Belmont winners.

“I have so much confidence in this filly that I always thought she could do it,” said Tabor, who owned 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch.

Already the best female runner in the country, the Rags to Riches’ group now faces the question of whether to challenge the males during the fall season. A Travers or Breeders’ Cup Classic featuring Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun and Rags to Riches would generate unprecedented appeal.

“We might show up for [female races] the Coaching Club and Alabama,” Pletcher said, “or we may show up for the Haskell and Travers. My job is to read how the filly is doing and see when she’s ready to run.”

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