- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2007

ELMONT, N.Y. — When Rags to Riches crossed the wire ahead of Curlin late Saturday afternoon to win the Belmont Stakes, Todd Pletcher no longer was the Best Trainer Never to Have Won a Triple Crown Race.

Instead, another quandary arose: What now for Rags to Riches, the first filly to win the Belmont in 102 years and a Triple Crown race in 19 years?

Before Saturday, she had proved she was a dominant 3-year-old filly, winning her four races this year by a combined 16 lengths.

On Saturday, she proved she could stretch out to a mile-and-a-quarter and defeat a field of six males that included Preakness winner Curlin and Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun.

The impressive Belmont win, combined with her previous 2007 efforts, instantly fueled speculation about whether Pletcher and owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith would opt to challenge the males throughout the summer and fall.

Judging by the comments made by Pletcher and Tabor, expect to see Rags to Riches challenge colts again at some point this year. If that is the case, the sport — which already received a boost with the Street Sense-Curlin-Hard Spun rivalry — will attract more attention if the summer and fall develops into “Three Guys and a Lady.”

“I would think it’s more than possible,” Tabor said.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, there are three options for Rags to Riches:

1. Stay away from the guys for good.

It may not be popular, but it would allow Rags to Riches to continue to rout her female counterparts and go down as one of the best — if not the best — female race horses of this generation.

“The filly is horse of the year — all she has to do is keep beating up on the rest of the fillies, and she’s got it clinched,” Imawildandcrazyguy trainer Bill Kaplan said.

For the good of the sport, having Rags to Riches not challenge the males again this year would be the worst possible scenario. The best should face the best regardless of gender or age.

If Tabor and Smith believed in this plan, Rags to Riches wouldn’t have run in the Belmont, so don’t bet it.

2. Face both genders.

This is the most likely scenario. Pletcher indicated yesterday Rags to Riches’ next start probably would be the Coaching Club American Oaks against 3-year-old fillies July 21 followed by the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, a females-only race, in late October.

But if she dominates the Coaching Club, Rags to Riches would have a month off to train for the Travers against Street Sense and Co.

“Obviously Mr. Smith and Mr. Tabor are sportsmen, or they wouldn’t have run the filly [Saturday],” Pletcher said, noting that the owners are willing to take risks.

Tabor is British, and running gals against guys in Europe isn’t that big of a deal, so he won’t consider it earth-shattering if he matches Rags to Riches against the best.

Additionally, Tabor intends to run Rags to Riches in 2008 and her value after she’s retired likely won’t change regardless of her future results.

“We’re not going to sell her, so the Belmont was all about the prestige,” he said. “If she was a colt, it would put a different perspective on things.”

3. Face only males the rest of the year.

This is the most fascinating scenario, and it would create big-time buzz this summer as Rags to Riches would match talents against Street Sense and then, in the fall, take on older males Invasor and Lava Man.

But it also would be the most risky and most taxing physically. It would require a minimum of four races against the nation’s top male horses.

Regardless of Rags to Riches’ route, a star was born Saturday before the smallest Belmont Stakes crowd in 11 years (46,870). Street Sense’s mad rush from back-to-front in the Kentucky Derby, Curlin’s gutsy comeback in the Preakness and Rags to Riches’ equally thrilling victory in the Belmont solidified this spring as one of the best Triple Crown campaigns in a while.

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