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Belmont Stakes: Rags To Riches
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Part One:  Rags To Riches
 
The Belmont Stakes, the race posed to punish any horse not worthy of its distance, lays claim to final nail in the coffin for the Triple Crown trail.  This arduous mile and a half trek over an unforgiving sandy surface has been touted as the true test of champions. The dramas witnessed in the Belmont Stakes throughout its one hundred forty-two year history are the life-blood moments that have kept horseracing fans mesmerized with this incredible sport. 
 
Spotlighting a few stellar performances of the past will be a nice prelude to the upcoming clash between Animal Kingdom, Shackelford and Nehro.  Secretariat, of course, is deserving of the highest recognition with his stunning Triple Crown finale. However, with the national attention brought to his victory by the recent Disney movie. I am not confident that I could top Disney’s depiction of Secretariat parting the Red Sea as he ran down the homestretch, anyway. 
 
Despite outrage from my Secretariat and Curlin loving friend, I must forge onward to grant appreciation for other top performers! Rags To Riches is one who is praiseworthy of her historic win in the Belmont Stakes.
 
After Rags To Riches’ impressive 4 ¼ length win in the 2007 Kentucky Oaks, many wondered why this daunting chestnut filly did not run in the Derby.  Her owners chose another contender to run in the Derby feeling that the Belmont would offer an opportunity for her to face the colts, knowing that her pedigree was ideally suited for longer races.
 
Rags To Riches is a perfect example of high-caliber racehorses bred to run at great distances.  The Belmont Stakes is embedded into her pedigree, being a half-sister to Jazil, who won the race in 2006 with a time of 2:27.81.  It was smart of Skara Glen Stables (the filly’s breeder)  to select A.P. Indy to cross with Better Than Honour, because he was the 1992 Belmont Stakes winner, and is by 1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew, and has Secretariat as a broodmare sire.  One could say that Rags to Riches is the Belmont Stakes.
 
Better Than Honour, by Deputy Minister, is not only a successful broodmare, but also performed quite remarkably on the racetrack, being a Grade II winner as a juvenile, and placing in the GI Acorn, and GIII Comely Stakes; and finishing third in the Mother Goose at Belmont Park. 
 
Rags to Riches’ second dam, Blush With Pride, brings in more black-type consistency by winning the Kentucky Oaks, Ashland Stakes, and coming in third in the Mother Goose as her daughter did in1999.  Blush With Pride had an outstanding pedigree in her own right, being out of 1982 Broodmare of the Year, Best In Show, who won the GIII Comely Stakes as a three year old.
 
I am impressed by the breeding of Best In Show, who is by Mr. Busher, whose sire is 1938 Triple Crown winner, War Admiral-something that is uncommonly found in pedigrees.  There is interesting inbreeding of imported stallion, Rock Sand, in Best In Show’s pedigree.  Rock Sand is the broodmare sire of War Admiral’s sire, Man O’ War, while another trace of Rock Sand can be found three generations back in Best In Show.
 
Notably, all five generations of Rags To Riches’ female family have finished in the top three of multiple Stakes Races.   I also find it intriguing that Late Date, the dam of Best In Show, is by undefeated legend, Colin, who was not able to have much of a stud career due to his untimely death in 1932.
 
Two weeks out from the Belmont Stakes, jockey Garrett Gomez found himself at a fork in the road, having the mount on two of the strongest contenders in the big race.  One was a bay colt named Hard Spun, who had finished in the money in the two previous Triple Crown races, and was not showing any signs of fatigue from the grueling Triple Crown trail.  His other mount was the salient and spirited Kentucky Oaks victor who was looking forward to a strong Belmont Stakes performance.
 
The choice was made by Gomez and his jockey agent to keep the mount on Hard Spun for the entire Triple Crown, because Hard Spun was confirmed to run in the Belmont, while Rags To Riches was not yet a definite starter. 
 
The week of the Belmont Stakes, trainer Todd Pletcher, owner Mike Tabor, and partner, Derrick Smith finally determined that Rags To Riches had the highest possibility of winning between the twosome of her and their other colt, Circular Quay.
 
Knowing Rags To Riches was left without a rider, New York-based jockey, John Velazquez saw the opportunity from the back of Belmont Stakes contender Slew’s Tizzy, who he was already committed to ride. After receiving the green light from Greg Fox (trainer of Slew’s Tizzy), it was announced that he would be in the irons on Rags To Riches on Belmont Stakes Day.  Rafael Bejarano would replace John Velazquez on Slew’s Tizzy.
 
Post draw did not affect the Belmont Stakes considerably due to the relatively small field of seven horses.  Despite its size and absence of Derby winner, Street Sense, the superiority of this group of young racehorses was extraordinary.  A case could be made for each contender.  Jerry and Anne Moss’s Tiago was improving, Hard Spun was dangerously consistent, and 6-5 morning line favorite, Curlin, demanded to be regarded as a top contender after his strong Preakness win.  Of course, Rags To Riches, breaking from post position seven, was a force that could not go overlooked.
 
Out of the gates in the 139th edition of the Belmont Stakes, the only filly in the race stumbled badly, but recuperated quickly to run nearby the sluggish pace made by C.P. West.  John Velazquez pulled back on Rags To Riches firmly into the first turn, where she traveled approximately seven wide.  No doubt, the filly was confused by this new racing strategy, due to her tendency to stay on the pace. 
 
After the quarter mile run in :24.74, Rags To Riches settled into sixth, not far off Curlin to the inside, and Hard Spun just before the chestnut filly.  John Velazquez, probably sensed the leisurely pace, and allowed Rags To Riches to run into Hard Spun’s place once he moved up to third.
 
Rags To Riches remained cool and collected down the backstretch, even after running behind an outrageously dawdling half mile in :50.14, going six paths wide.  For the most of the running, it was a match race between her and Curlin, staying on even terms for almost the entire race. 
 
After three-fourths of a mile was run, John Velazquez saw Robby Albarado guide Curlin through the inside, and knew it was time to request an authoritative rush from his behemoth filly mount.
 
Curlin boldly pushed through a small opening between Hard Spun (who he brushed while executing this move), and C.P. West, who had held the lead for the entire race.  Rags To Riches was game for a fight, vying for the lead forcefully on the outside, partnering with Curlin, virtually making a ‘Hard Spun Sandwich’. 
 
Rags To Riches and Curlin entered the homestretch with a sweeping move out of the final turn, and taking over the pace with nuclear power.  At that precise moment, it was made clear that Belmont Stakes 139 was to be a fight for the ages as they pulled away from the horses now posing as supporting actors.  When the only two chestnuts reached mid-stretch, it seemed that the filly was going to pull away in this battle of the sexes.  But a resilient Curlin retorted with a blast of oomph that put him in an advantageous position.  Rags To Riches equaled that burst of authority, gaining a nose on Curlin.  The Belmont Stakes wire had not seen a filly’s nose cross first in 102 years.
 
Rags To Riches became part of an exclusively small cast of fillies to accomplish this monumental achievement.  Prior to Rags To Riches epic victory, only two other fillies had won the title of “Belmont Stakes Winner”.  Nineteen fillies started in the Belmont Stakes before 2007.  Out of these fillies, Ruthless and Tanya were the only girls to hold off the boys.  In the inaugural running of the Belmont Stakes in 1867, Ruthless denied the colts a win, and in 1905, Tanya was the final filly to win the race before an unbelievably extensive drought lasting over a century.
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