Riches Beyond Compare

Call it fate. Call it kismet. Whatever title you prefer, Rags to Riches seemed destined to give trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez their first classic winner.

Although "Johnny V" has been Pletcher's first-call rider for years, it took a last-­minute decision to run the filly and a madcap jockey scramble to bring them together for the 139th Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

Because of their longtime relationship and numerous frustrations and disappointments in the classics, you had the feeling that when their moment did come it would be with great fanfare.

But how could that be achieved? Pletcher has never been known to evoke such fervor, especially from the New York fans. Because of his never-ending arsenal of stakes winners, his stoic personality in the public arena, and his unprecedented domination of New York racing, he would need a special horse to reach into people's hearts and allow them to see the soul that lies within Team Pletcher's machine-like organization.

Rags to Riches was such a horse, and when Pletcher provided the final leg of the Triple Crown with a much-needed shot in the arm by announcing his $1.9-million glamour queen would take on the mighty Curlin and other top colts in the 1 1/2-mile classic, he lit the fuse that would set off a raucous round of fireworks at Belmont Park June 9.

Four days after the decision by Pletcher and owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith to run Rags to Riches, there she was, charging down the stretch in the Belmont locked in furious combat with the brilliant, tough, and determined Curlin, whose meteoric rise to stardom was one victory away from taking on legendary proportions.

The crowd of 46,870, the smallest since 1996, was on its feet as the feisty filly and the brawny colt looked each other in the eye, neither budging an inch. One of the great battles in Triple Crown history was on.

There is a saying attributed to both Eleanor Roosevelt and Carl Sandburg: "A woman is like a tea bag. It's only when she's in hot water that you realize how strong she is."  

Curlin put Rags to Riches in scalding water down the Belmont stretch, but it was he who got burned.

Rags to Riches, who had stumbled badly at the start and then raced wide the entire way, took the outside route, while Curlin, who had saved ground, split horses inside her with a quick burst of speed. Now, as they honed in on each other, it was time to see which one had the strongest will. It was a classic male vs. female confrontation, something you don't see in most other sports.

Rags to Riches' powerful four-wide move had enabled her to outrun Curlin and establish a slight advantage turning for home. Curlin fought back, as both horses switched to their right lead on cue. Velazquez threw a wide cross on the reins to gather the filly, while Robby Albarado went to a right-handed whip, causing Curlin to duck in, away from the filly. When Albarado switched to a series of left-handed whips, Curlin came back out and bumped Rags to Riches. But the filly, who has been manhandling humans since she was a baby, was not about to be intimidated by the powerful chestnut. Albarado continued to hit Curlin left-handed, and again he came out and bumped Rags to Riches, who again shrugged it off.

Velazquez resorted to only a single left-handed whip, then switched and gave her one right-handed whip. Her blood was up, and Velazquez realized she needed little encouragement. Although Curlin kept digging in and battling back, Rags to Riches refused to relinquish her head advantage. As she eased in slightly and Curlin again came out into her, the two were leaning all over each other as the wire approached.

Most horses, especially fillies, would have been intimidated by the contact from a bruiser like Curlin, but Rags to Riches seemed to relish this test of superiority. Velazquez now was just waving the whip and leaving it all up to her. With sheer grit, determination, and tenacity, Rags to Riches kept her head advantage to the finish following a sizzling final quarter-mile in :23.83.

The daughter of A.P. Indy   out of Better Than Honour, by Deputy Minister, had become the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont, joining Ruthless, who won the inaugural running in 1867, and Tanya, in 1905. Rags to Riches' half-brother, Jazil, captured the Belmont last year for Pletcher's former colleague and close friend Kiaran McLaughlin. Both Pletcher and McLaughlin once worked as assistants to D. Wayne Lukas.

Throughout the grandstand, the disciplined Pletcher machine unraveled in a burst of emotion during the stretch run. Burdened with an 0-for-28 record in Triple Crown races, Pletcher unleashed a flurry of eight short jabs into an invisible opponent, while urging on his filly: "Come on, baby; come on, baby," he pleaded. As she crossed the finish line, he jumped up, flinging his fist in the air, and then kissed his wife Tracy, knocking her hat off.

Pletcher's rush of adrenaline was able to briefly overpower the body aches and fever that had knocked him out for two days. So bad was his flu, he awoke five times the night before the Belmont and had to change his T-shirt each time because he was sweating so profusely. His stable crew realized how sick he was when he didn't show up at the barn Saturday morning.

Rags to Riches' exercise rider, Lauren Robson, watched in a nearby box with Velazquez' wife, Leona, and her family and Velazquez' longtime friend and agent, Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero Jr.

"There were drinks flying everywhere," Robson said. "Leona was in tears right away and she put me in tears. It was so great because Todd and Johnny have been together for so long."

Assistant trainer Seth Benzel, who has 90 horses at Saratoga, watched the race on TV at home. "I didn't stop shaking until 1 o'clock last night," he said the next morning. "When they came down the stretch, I was out of my seat riding her as hard as anybody. I couldn't shake it off after the race and called my mom and dad. She is just so special. I can't wait for her to get up here; we'll have a regal stall waiting for her."

Watching at Churchill Downs was assistant Mike McCarthy, who has been with Rags to Riches for most of her career, and in fact was her trainer of record for her first two starts this year while Pletcher was serving a suspension.

"I can't even put into words what it was like watching her," McCarthy said. "At the three-eighths pole I kept thinking this is really going to happen. And then at the quarter pole I thought, ‘This is it. This is what we've been working for.' After it was over there was a feeling of closure. We had made history, and Todd finally had his classic. That meant a lot to us."

Later on, Robson called McCarthy and Rags to Riches' former exercise rider Justin Curran. "Oh, my God, we'll never see a horse like this again," she told Curran. "I wish you could have been here. You guys did such a good job with her; you brought her up from the start. I'll give her a pat for you."

Cordero won his share of Triple Crown races during his career, but this one was extra special. It was Cordero who discovered Velazquez from a videotape of the apprentice rider in action in Puerto Rico. Cordero brought Velazquez to America and mentored the young rider, eventually taking over Velazquez' book following his retirement as a jockey and as a trainer, and hooked him up with Pletcher as his No. 1 rider. From the time Velazquez came to this country, he has looked up to Cordero as a father figure.

Since the union of Cordero, Velazquez, and Pletcher, the three have formed a bond that goes far beyond that of agent, jockey, and trainer. It is about friendship and loyalty. Cordero, who also exercises horses for Pletcher, needed both desperately after the tragic hit-and-run death of his wife, Marjorie, in January 2001.

"Johnny and Todd came into my life at the right time and they both helped me deal with my loss," Cordero said. "I love my career, but I lost half of my heart when my wife died. Other than my kids I didn't have anything I wanted anymore. I was too old to still be a good athlete and I knew I'd never find a woman like her, so, to me, life was over. That was the end of me. Time may help the wounds feel a little better, but it never heals them. It's been almost seven years since she died, and I still miss her and I still cry for her. God gave me a great career and a great woman, but it was my kids and Johnny and Todd that kept my life together."

The Pletcher organization has been perceived by most to be fueled by nothing more than wins and dollar signs, but it took a special filly to show the world that there is a passion and a love for the horse that is first and foremost behind its success.

The story of the 2007 Belmont actually began with the pop heard round the racing world. When trainer Carl Nafzger and owner James Tafel stuck the proverbial pin in the Belmont balloon, withdrawing Street Sense from the race, it all but deflated the third leg of the Triple Crown. Without the winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the Belmont looked to be a mundane affair with Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Curlin taking on a small group of challengers.

"I told Mr. Tafel that some people are going to love us and some people are going to hate us," Nafzger said. "We were going to the Triple Crown, and I didn't think they were going to beat this colt. I got cocky, but when Curlin kicked my butt, and he did kick my butt, it changed things. I was so let down after the Preakness."

Street Sense's defection left Curlin as the sole headliner in the Belmont, much to the dismay of racing fans, the New York Racing Association, and ABC, which had seen its Triple Crown storyline disappear in the closing jump of the Preakness. Then the big showdown angle evaporated as well. All that remained was Curlin, racing's budding superstar whose main competition looked to be the indefatigable Hard Spun, the only other combatant from the Derby and Preakness still looking for a fight.

When Hard Spun's trainer, Larry Jones, and owner Rick Porter agreed to replace jockey Mario Pino, it set wheels in motion in several directions. Velazquez, who had ridden Circular Quay in the Derby and Preakness, and who had never been aboard Rags to Riches, had little hope of lining up a mount from Pletcher in the Belmont, so he signed on to ride Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) and Lone Star Derby (gr. III) winner Slew's Tizzy.

When Rags to Riches' regular rider, Garrett Gomez, had a chance to replace Pino on Hard Spun, his agent, Ron Anderson, asked Pletcher about the filly's Belmont status.

"Ron came by and said, ‘What are you going to do with the filly?' " Pletcher said. "I said I really don't think we're going to run if Street Sense, Curlin, and Hard Spun all run. I thought Street Sense was going to run at that stage. Ron was able to buy a couple of days, but he was getting pressure to make a commitment, so I told him, ‘You've got to do what you have to do, and I can't blame you. I don't want to hold you up.' "

Anderson took the mount on Hard Spun, but when Street Sense was withdrawn and Rags to Riches eventually was declared a starter the day before entries were drawn, he went to Jones to survey the situation, and Jones said he intended for Gomez to ride Hard Spun as agreed upon. That opened the door for Cordero and Velazquez, but they too had made a commitment and needed to be released by Slew's Tizzy's trainer, Greg Fox.

"I wasn't surprised when they came to me," Fox said. "It's very much a part of racing, and I told them they could ride the filly and I would make an adjustment. John Velazquez and Todd Pletcher are part of the same family as far as I'm concerned. How can you not ride for your family?"

So, Velazquez somehow had found his way aboard Rags to Riches. Destiny seemed to be directing Pletcher and Velazquez, who was 0-for-20 in Triple Crown races, to their first classic victory.

How appropriate it would be to have Rags to Riches get the albatross off Pletcher's back. When Lukas was getting hammered by the media for being 0-for-12 in the Kentucky Derby, despite his unprecedented success in other races, it took a filly, Winning Colors, to break his losing streak. After that, the floodgates opened for Lukas.

Pletcher felt Rags to Riches, who was bred in Kentucky by Skara Glen Stables, was special the minute he laid eyes on her. "I saw her at the Keeneland September yearling sale and loved her then," he said. "She had a great head and a smart eye. She was very well balanced and athletic-looking, with a great walk. You see all that and then you look down at the pedigree page and you say, ‘Wow!' We got her in at Churchill in early April last year and started breezing her Derby week. Just watching her the very first time she breezed, it was obvious she was pretty special."

Pletcher, Tabor, and Smith knew what they had right from the start from the glowing reports from David Scanlon, who broke the filly at his training center in Ocala, Fla. "We used to call her the runway model, because she was all legs and absolutely gorgeous," Scanlon said. "But she had her own attitude. She was a dominant female. When you walked in the barn, she'd have her head sticking out, and when you went to pet her she'd stomp her feet and start squealing. She had her own regimen and you did things to fit her schedule.  Basically, she wanted to go to the track, eat, do her deal, and be left alone. You didn't want to get in a fight with her; you just wanted to work out an agreement. But once she got on the racetrack, she'd just float out there. She was such a beautiful moving filly."

After finishing an excellent fourth in her career debut, in which she broke slowly, dropped back to last, and had to go seven-wide, she was sent to Saratoga, but suffered a setback that required time, and was shipped to Ashford Stud near Versailles, Ky.

When Rags to Riches returned late last year, she was ready to conquer the world. But she was still quite a handful, so Pletcher contacted Diane Volz, who has been doing physical therapy on Pletcher's horses for years, and asked her to order another CHI infrasound machine, which she hooked up above Rags to Riches' stall.

"The first time I worked on her she came at me with her mouth wide open," Volz recalled. "But with the CHI she's come around and mellowed. The CHI stimulates the alpha waves-or early sleep waves-and helps them settle down and relax."

Rags to Riches broke her maiden at Santa Anita in spectacular fashion by six lengths, after which she won the Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) with an amazing wide run throughout. That was followed by easy victories in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), the latter over a sealed muddy track.

Then came her unscheduled quest for greatness in the Belmont, which drew a field of seven that also included Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Tiago; Imawild­andcrazyguy, a fast-closing fourth in the Kentucky Derby; and Preakness fourth-place finisher C P West.

Pletcher's Belmont day wasn't going very well, as he suffered defeats in the Birdstone Stakes with A. P. Arrow; the True North Handicap (gr. II) with Keyed Entry; the Just a Game Stakes (gr. IIT) with Wait a While; and the Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) with Deadly Dealer. His fortunes changed with Cotton Blossom's victory in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I), but he suffered another defeat when English Channel was beaten a head in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT).

Weak and rubber-legged, Pletcher had one more race to go. "A Belmont victory would certainly pick my head up," he said as he headed to the paddock.

Any thoughts of victory were diminished at the start when Rags to Riches stumbled coming out of the gate. "My heart stopped," Velazquez said. "The first thing I thought of was, hopefully, she doesn't pull a shoe and get hurt."

If Pletcher was sick before the race, he had to feel downright awful after watching the break. "I was absolutely devastated," he said. "I was so upset I threw my binoculars down. I thought I had blown it by running her."

Rags to Riches never missed a beat, but was in danger of going extremely wide when C P West floated Slew's Tizzy out toward the middle of the track. Velazquez was able to move in several paths, but was still some four or five wide. Down the backstretch, C P West still led through dawdling fractions of :24.74, :50.14, and 1:15.32, while racing three paths off the rail. Rags to Riches, sent off at 4-1, was seven wide, with Curlin, the even-money favorite, tucked in on the inside behind C P West and Slew's Tizzy and directly inside Hard Spun.

Hard Spun, who was under a tight hold by Gomez down the backstretch and running more than five seconds slower than he had in the Preakness, had Curlin bottled up. After a mile in a lethargic 1:40.23, Gomez made his move on Hard Spun, with Curlin still biding his time waiting for an opening. Rags to Riches made steady progress on the far outside and moved up to challenge. Just then, Albarado, with a watchful eye on the filly, shot Curlin through a gap between C P West and Hard Spun and seemed to have beaten Rags to Riches to the punch. But Rags to Riches also surged and charged past Curlin by nearly a half-length. However, the Preakness winner battled back and the race for greatness was on.

With the crowd cheering wildly, Rags to Riches, in receipt of a five-pound sex allowance, won by a head in 2:28.74, with a game Curlin finishing 5 1/2 lengths ahead of Tiago, who was compromised by a severe bumping incident with Imawildandcrazyguy at the break, the slow pace, traffic problems, and a dreadful stay in the pre-race monitoring barn, which necessitated his having to be taken outside to graze. It was another 5 1/2 lengths back to Hard Spun in fourth.

Not only did Rags to Riches come home her final quarter in :23 4/5, she closed her final half in a sensational :47 4/5 after racing 4- to 5-wide the entire way. Slow pace or not, that is motoring at the end of a mile and a half race. And hats off to Curlin, who ran yet another sensational race. It is amazing what this colt has accomplished in such a short period of time.

The ovation for Rags to Riches swelled to a glorious crescendo as Velazquez brought her up the stretch and saluted the crowd. "As a rule, we're probably the ones everybody's rooting against," Pletcher said. "But this reception was unbelievable." Velazquez said it gave him goose bumps.

"That was unreal," Tabor said. "What a filly. I have so much confidence in her. I always thought she could do it."

Trainer Steve Asmussen said he was "very proud" of Curlin, calling him a throwback. "I can't say enough about him; he's a competitor," he said. "And she's a deserving classic winner. To lose one the exact same way we won one, we better learn how to take it."

So ended one of the most memorable Triple Crowns of all time, concluding with one of the greatest Belmonts ever run. Rags to Riches had won it for the ladies, beating a rough and tough male at his own game. Following the race, a group of female photographers, who also claim to be Rags to Riches' adoring legion, bowed down to her highness.

Pletcher was back at his barn the next morning well before 5 o'clock, taking care of business in his office as a bright and alert Rags to Riches was brought out to graze by her hotwalker, Isabel Escobar.

What a difference 24 hours make. The morning before, Pletcher was saying, "I don't know how I'm going to make it through the day."

As Benzel said, "He's the ultimate warrior."

But on this day, the ultimate warrior was a courageous chestnut filly who inscribed herself, her trainer, and her jockey into the history books.


Leave a Comment:

Paula Higgins

Another beauty Mr. Haskins. I am off to go watch Rags To Riches on Youtube!

22 Dec 2009 1:05 AM

Another beautiful piece of writing, Steve. Rags to Riches' Belmont was among the most exciting races I can remember; it just took my breath away. I have the framed picture on my wall of Rags and Curlin crossing the line  and I'm looking at it as I write this; there she is with her head down, and driving - what a performance! We had lots of thrills provided by the ladies this year, but Rags to Riches and her Belmont Stakes belongs right up there in the thrill-o-meter as far as I'm concerned. I was a big fan of both Curlin and Hard Spun, but I couldn't help but but root for her that day and she sure delivered.

22 Dec 2009 1:37 AM
Dr D

What a great story! I felt like I was seeing the race again. Thanks!

22 Dec 2009 6:10 AM

My girl!

22 Dec 2009 6:27 AM

Thank you Steve.  I remember watching that Belmont at home and

jumping up and down as she neared the finish line.  What a triumph!

22 Dec 2009 6:48 AM

All hail the Queen of 2007.  

22 Dec 2009 7:21 AM

Thanks for sharing this oldie but goodie. I drove four hours up to Elmont to watch this special filly run. Was glad I was very glad I was to see her make history!

22 Dec 2009 7:29 AM

Great article Steve. Nice to see that Rags to Riches is getting the recognition she deserves. I have always thought she was one of the best ever. The fantasy race of the decade would be one featuring Rages to Riches, Curlin, Zenyatta, Rachael Alexander and Ghostzapper over 10 furlongs at Belmont Park. The race would be ever more exciting if we were to add that other overlooked horse, Afleet Alex.

22 Dec 2009 8:05 AM

Ah, the memories!

22 Dec 2009 8:26 AM

Once again you have woven a tapestry of words that capture the images of those incredible horses of 2007 in vivid colors.  Rags to Riches was so courageous in winning the Belmont and your description brings to focus so many other points to the story that add to it as well.  I had completely forgotten about all the jockey switching around - but, my brain is like a sieve, so I usually need reminders on certain details.  Thank you for jogging my brain into gear and stimulating my mind to enjoy once again that great race.  With my favorite, Street Sense, out of the Belmont, I was pulling for Hard Spun, but when Rags To Riches took over, well my heart was hers.

22 Dec 2009 8:43 AM

Steve--thank you for the wild ride down memory lane.  Your article had me at the edge of my seat as I watched Rags win that race all over again.  With all the Zenyatta vs RA debate going on, thank you for bringing back that incredible day as vividly as if it happened yesterday.  Rags will live forever in the hearts of her loyal fans, even though her career was cut short.  I get goose bumps just thinking of what she could have done.  Can't wait to see what her filly does in a couple of years.  

22 Dec 2009 9:01 AM

It was such an exciting race.  Long live girl power!

22 Dec 2009 9:25 AM

Thank you for reposting this! This is the article that brought me to Bloodhorse. I'd been following racing for years, but Rags to Riches' Belmont win enthralled me so much that I kept looking her up at Google News. She still remains one of my favorites and I look forward to seeing how her first filly grows up!

22 Dec 2009 10:09 AM

that's why I have this site as one of my favs. Can't say it any better than it's allready been said. That's why we all love this game so much.Beyond feathering a 10/1 shot, and getting bragging rights[for 30 minutes anyway], it's all about the horse and the people who surround the horse that goes far beyond any monetary return.Thanks Steve, for this gentle reminder!

22 Dec 2009 10:11 AM

I was yelling so hard for Rags to Riches down the stretch that I embarrassed my daughter who ran around shutting the windows so the neighbors would not hear !  

22 Dec 2009 10:41 AM

If the positions were reversed - Rags on the inside and Curlin on the outside, I venture to say the result would have been different.

22 Dec 2009 10:51 AM

Great article, Steve!  It still gives me chill bumps!  It was as exciting race as I've ever seen.  But I remember the comment that you made about Johnny V not hitting her, that he didn't need to, her "blood was already up ," as you said.  The heart of a thoroughbred was never in more evidence than in Rags that day.  When a filly gets hooked like Rags did by by the big jock Curlin, or like Rachel did in the Woodward, and still is standing at the end, it is amazing and awe-inspiring.   Thanks for the memories, Steve

22 Dec 2009 10:54 AM

I was a big fan of 'Rags' long before the Belmont, so seeing her win that day will always be my absolute favorite race of all time.  

Gosh!  And, what a thrill seeing her outrun my second favorite horse for that year! It just doesn't get any better than that!  There was no doubt in my mind who would win that Belmont, either.

'Rags' had it all!  Thanks to all her connections then ... and now.  And, thank you for the memories.

22 Dec 2009 12:13 PM

This was the one I had been waiting for. I watch the race on tape all of the time. It never gets old. Rags will always be a favorite. She's even guardian of my home in Breyer model form. What a champion! As worthy as Zenyatta & Rachel are of press, I can't let their exploits overshadow this magnificent Slew granddaughter.

22 Dec 2009 12:21 PM

A lovely article, I didn't have the delight of reading it when you first put it out so it's been nice for me to read all these. I wish we could have seen more of her. She was so fantastic in that race, and so full of vinegar. She was one of a kind for sure, with her attitude! Not like our sweethearts this year!

22 Dec 2009 1:41 PM
Golden Rule

Where did Rags to Riches run in her next start against females? Curlin did run her to the ground, just imagine if he had five weeks to rest.

22 Dec 2009 2:10 PM

Wow, what a great story!  It gave me chills to read it, because I remember to vividly what a race for the ages that was.  Steve, you are a fantastic writer- wish you had more features like this throughout the year.  

It's a shame that some people can't just relive the moment and have to try and downplay or denegrate the great filly's accomplishments.  Just enjoy the story!

22 Dec 2009 3:38 PM

Golden Rule

    I believe her next start was the Gazelle.

22 Dec 2009 3:58 PM
Stephi S.

Ah, just went and watched it again on YouTube..what a race! What a filly! The day of that Belmont, it was nice here in FL and I had the patio door open. When she hit the top of the stretch and accelerated, I was on my feet screaming so loud it scared the cat and the dogs right out of the house. There is a picture of her and Curlin coming down the stretch, and she has that "boss mare" eye rolled back at him, just daring him to pass her. That picture says it all about that filly. I bet she rules the barn and pasture at the farm these days.

22 Dec 2009 4:10 PM

I forgot to mention in the earlier post, I remember watching Rags To Riches stumble and holding my breath, hoping she wouldn't fall.

When she battled back and challenged Curlin for the lead, I jumped up and cheered here on to the wire. What a beautiful horse with heart, as so many have mentioned.

22 Dec 2009 4:38 PM
Kate Harper

If Curlin had been on the outside, he would have won?  Ok, let's put it another way.  If Rags to Riches hadn't stumbled leaving the gate, she probably would have won by a length or more.

Yes, she did lose the Gazelle in her next start.  A race she stayed competitive in, running 2nd to Lear's Princess, despite a hairline fracture in her right front pastern.  She was an awesome filly no matter who gripes about how she beat Curlin.

22 Dec 2009 5:50 PM

Wonderful article Steve~Rags will always be on my list of favorites...she was special!

22 Dec 2009 6:50 PM

I love Rags To Riches,Curlin and all horses that race.

Super story.

22 Dec 2009 7:19 PM
Carlos in Cali

Correct me if I'm wrong,but wasn't she scheduled to compete in the Travers,Jockey Club GC & then the Breeders Cup Classic before her injury in the Gazelle?. Talk about an "ambitious campaign for the ages". What an amazing filly,who's full potential and historical accomplishments were cut short.I've always felt she was the Greatest filly in our lifetime,too bad.

22 Dec 2009 8:40 PM

When I get to see these moments in time, those moments of bravery -- Rags refusing to yield, Rachel giving her all in the Woodward, Zen sweeping to the front, Tiznow battling back in 2001 -- I can only describe it as spiritually uplifting. I've been privileged to see the handiwork of God and I am both humbled and inspired.

22 Dec 2009 9:25 PM

I haven't missed a Belmont since 2000.  I watched FC and Smarty bring the crowd to its feet and deflate it like a balloon popped.  But the greatest Belmont of the decade has to be this race.  Two ultimate warriors looking each other in the eye and never giving an inch.  Someday I shall take my grandchildren to the races and tell them about all the great races I saw.  When it comes to this Belmont, I'll just give this article to read.  Thanks Steve, for bringing it back to life.

22 Dec 2009 9:26 PM
Judy ~ Burbank, CA

I'd like to add my two cents (without mentioning the poster's names). If the race had set up "differently"? You have to be JOKING! My Lord, she stumbled at the gate she went so wide at the turn, how much more could she have given Curlin? She looked him in the eye~end of story. Dang, you bump me~I'll give you major attitude, too! Right on R2R!!

I only recently go into horse racing. This filly was the first to give me an opportunity to witness "Girl Power". I, too, was screaming so LOUD I thought the police might show up at the door!! :-) Not to mention: she is BEAUTIFUL!

22 Dec 2009 10:30 PM
Ida Lee

This race was unbelievable. First when Rags stumbled, I was so upset because I thought the race was over for her. Then, she takes off again like her butt is on fire but way wide and again I thought it's over for her which was just as well since Curlin was and is my all time favorite equine crush. THEN, Rags goes after Curlin and I couldn't believe what I was looking at. These two incredible creatures going at it and the Filly keeping her head in front of Curlin like her life depended on it. When she won, I jumped, I laughed, I cried. What a great race and what a wonderful Filly!! P.S. I understand that Rags is in foal with henrythenavigator's little one. Wow, can't wait to see their baby on the track.

22 Dec 2009 11:01 PM


    I don't remember hearing anything about her taking on those races. All I remember is TP saying that they were taking there time with her. I remember some talk, more like gossip and rumors surface about her going to the Classic, but she never even went to the BC.

23 Dec 2009 12:18 AM

I wish I could say I'm sorry for getting anyone into a stew about my comment.  I wasn't aware that only positive comments about the Rags/Curlin dual were allowed.  Rags won fair and square, but I still contend that if the positions were reversed she wouldn't have.  She may have stumbled at the gate - but how many horses do and still go on to win - Afleet Alex is a prime example.  As another poster pointed out Rags had 5 weeks rest between races whereas Curlin had 3.  He raced in all 3 of the TC races - Rags did not.

Far too much hullabaloo is made about girls beating the boys.  It shouldn't - it's been going on in other countries all the time.  This year with Rachel and Zenyatta being the top two should lend some credence to the FACT that girls can and do beat the boys, and I hope this is the incentive needed for more of the distaff to run with the boys.  

Nothing against Steve's wonderful account of the race.  He captures the essence of everything about which he writes.  He's a national treasure to the sport of horse race reporting - a marvelous story teller.

23 Dec 2009 1:51 AM


23 Dec 2009 5:40 AM

I think the plan for Rags was filly races & then the Distaff and that the Gazelle ended up a back-up plan for missing the Ruffian because of her illnesses & missed works...

It was her first race in 3 months, she gave weight to Lear Princess, and she suffered a hairline fracture when she switched to her right lead in the stretch...

A wonderful filly...

23 Dec 2009 7:42 AM

Her career was cut short by injury, but she was beset by illness and/or injury from her 2-year old year on...

Look who Rags beat in her 2 best races:

Oaks: she won drawing away in the slop (faster time than Silverbulletday's), beating fillies like Dreaming of Anna,. Octave, Sealy Hill, Cotton Blossom, Tough Tiz Sis, High Heels and that's all I can remember...

In the Belmont she beat the record equaling Preakness Stakes winner and a field of quality colts...

23 Dec 2009 8:01 AM


Apparently Rags was to be pointed to the Coaching Club Oaks, The Alabama, The Travers (all at 1-1/4M) and then the Breeders Cup although I'm not sure if it would have been the Classic or the Lady's......If she did well in the Travers there is a good possibility that it would have been the Classic......Remember she was that good.  Her Belmont win was the first by a filly in 102 years, her final quarter of 23.83 was the fastest in the race since 1934, and her Beyer in the race was 107 (the same as Summer Bird's).  She was an amazing filly.  Hope you have a good break from school and a great holiday.

23 Dec 2009 11:22 AM

Mr. Haskin,

Your description of that race is a perfect tribute to this remarkable filly. You describe the stretch battle so vividly that it really felt like I was there, watching it in person.

Thank you again for re-posting these articles. I'm printing all of them for safekeeping until such time as an editor is bright enough to gather them all in a fantastic book. I thoroughly enjoyed your "Tales from the Triple Crown" and recommend it to anyone in here who is thirsting for more of your gifted writing.

23 Dec 2009 12:31 PM

Let's not forget the inexcusable ride given to Hard Spun by Gomez.

I still say he compromised Hard Spun's chances by purposely keeping Curlin boxed in as long as he could.

He was mad Larry Jones wouldn't let him off so he could ride Rags and did all he could to help her win.

You could see right from the start of the race.  He found Curlin and moved Hard Spun five paths to the inside to force Curlin to the rail.  The he strangled Hard Spun to keep him even with Curlin to make sure he had no room.

Rags to Riches won, but to this day I say Gomez did all he could to help her.  But it is all spilled milk at this point.

23 Dec 2009 2:02 PM

This is a re-cap of an amazing race and an amazing filly. Rags laid it on the line that day. She was a remarkable fighter and hoopefully she will pass on her incredible heart to her off spring.

Hard Spun was my favorite horse  running in 2007.  He was also a fighter. He never got the respect he deserved, but he sure earned my respect. I hope to meet him someday.

23 Dec 2009 3:55 PM
Ida Lee

Why are we looking for reasons for Rags' win in the Belmont? She won because come hell or high water, on that day this Filly was a stupendous athlete who did what she had to do to win. This does not take anything away from Curlin (or anyone else) who as I've mentioned before is my all time love. But it does not matter who she raced on that day, the Filly was not going to be beaten by anyone. I doubt Secretariat could have beaten her. This is the way of the Filly/Mare. To me this is what makes them so special - the heart, the determination, the in-your-face competitiveness. And yes she is absolutely Gorgeous!!

23 Dec 2009 4:30 PM


    I know the distances of each of the races. I have no doubt she would have won them, she was that good and with her breeding the longer the better. I wasn't saying she wasn't being pointed towards those races, just saying I don't remember any media on it. Thank you and have a merry christmas.

23 Dec 2009 4:38 PM
Carole in San Diego

As always, Steve, your account brings this great race back as if it were yesterday. Two chestnut champions in that classic stretch run.  Thank you for yet another wonderful piece.

23 Dec 2009 7:17 PM

Rags To Riches, the gutsy little filly that beat Curlin at the longer distance at Belmont,  I bet Curlin still has nightmares about that day, when she looked at him and said, "SEE YA"

24 Dec 2009 7:14 AM

Ida Lee, I just love what you said...I agree...and I love that Rags To Riches and  Curlin! and GOD Bless (Gomez)James...that stubborn little chestnut filly would have won anyway....

maybe I am really a  horseracing fan....I love them all...

24 Dec 2009 2:40 PM

Rags was one of the best and what guts that filly showed.  I put her Belmont race in the same category as Zenyatta's classic.  A horse that can win after such a horrible start are the best and have the heart of a true Champion.  

24 Dec 2009 3:42 PM

For jamesb--I really doubt Garrett Gomez would intentionally lose the Belmont on Hard Spun to let Rags win...come on--who would be fool enough to deny their own victory in a triple crown race?

28 Dec 2009 7:09 PM


    Both Jerry Bailey and Alex Solis did in the Belmont. Sometimes jockies just don't ride to win, and instead ride to make sure another doesn't win, even in a TC race. It's horrible and patheticlly sad but it happens.

29 Dec 2009 9:17 AM

Hi Steve, this story you wrote keeps me comming back to re-read of course, I love Rags2Riches.

I would love to see new pictures of her foal born on 3-10-09.

10 Jan 2010 11:41 AM

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