Trainer Todd Pletcher will make history when he saddles Rags to Riches June 9 in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). The grade I winner will become just the 22nd filly-- and the first since Silverbulletday in 1999-- to challenge the boys in the 1 1/2-mile "Test of a Champion."
Only two fillies have ever won the Belmont--Ruthless in 1867 and Tanya in 1905, the year Belmont Park opened. In more recent history, Genuine Risk finished second in 1980 behind Temperence Hill, Winning Colors was sixth in 1988, My Flag was third in 1996, and Silverbulletday was seventh in 1999.
"Maybe with the exception of My Flag, I don't think any of them qualified in the same regard as this filly does," Pletcher said. "Winning Colors was coming off a tough race in the Preakness, Genuine Risk had ran some good races, Silverbulletday was not designed for a mile and a half. So, maybe when you break down the ones that maybe did try it, they might not have been as qualified as this filly--spacing, pedigree, and running style.
"It takes a very good filly to even consider running against the colts in a race like this and we wouldn't think about doing it if we didn't think this filly was extremely good," Pletcher continued. Rags to Riches will break from post seven under jockey John Velazquez and is listed as third choice on the morning line at 3-1.
"My filly was a pretty big rugged thing and I think Rags to Riches is pretty big and tough, too, just off her pedigree," said trainer Shug McGaughey, who saddled My Flag in 1996. "You really wouldn't want to run a lightly framed filly because you could get bounced around. They have to be pretty versatile going a mile and a half."
Pletcher waited until the day entries were due to make a decision on running his Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner against the boys for the first time in her five-race career. One of the deciding factors was the pedigree of Rags to Riches. She is by Belmont winner A.P. Indy and is the daughter of Better Than Honour, the dam of 2006 Belmont winner Jazil.
"One of the things I wanted to make sure was that running her was not going to compromise anything we were going to do with her in the future or harm her value," said Pletcher who added owner Michael Tabor left the decision on whether or not to run up to him. "What we are giving up by running a 3-1 shot in the Belmont is running a 1-5shot in the Mother Goose. The Mother Goose is not necessarily going to make history for her or change her value. I think this was more exciting."
Before the 1996 Belmont, McGaughey said he opted to take a chance on starting My Flag, who had won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at two before winning the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at three. She finished unplaced in the Kentucky Oaks.
"I was sort of in the same position as Todd was in, a little bit," McGaughey said of the decision to start My Flag in the Belmont. "She had won two grade I races and had won a grade II so, it wasn't a matter of I've got to win a grade I with her. We were taking a shot, it didn't take a whole lot out of her."