by Karen M. Johnson
All eyes in the racing world will be on Rags to Riches when she runs in the $250,000 Gazelle Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park Sept. 15.
The last time the 3-year-old filly was seen racing was in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 9. She and Curlin put on quite a show and made it a battle of the sexes as they raced nose-to-nose down Belmont’s stretch. Rags to Riches prevailed by a neck over Curlin, the Preakness winner, and became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes.
In the Gazelle, where she will face four other 3-year-old fillies, the stakes are lower and the competition is not what Rags to Riches faced in the Belmont or in her wins in the Santa Oaks (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) earlier this year.
Belmont, however, is hoping the intrigue is still there for Rags to Riches and to that end, the New York Racing Association will give the first 12,000 in attendance a free pin depicting the filly as the “Belle of Belmont.”
Rags to Riches’ trainer, Todd Pletcher, said after her last work Sept. 8 he wasn’t “concerned” about the stretch of time between races and the fact she had several minor hiccups over the summer that forced her to miss training time and a start in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. The daughter of A.P. Indy originally was supposed to return to the races in the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Sept. 8, but she missed three days of training after running a fever Aug. 27, and Pletcher opted for the Gazelle instead.
“She’s fit and ready,” said Pletcher, who trains Rags to Riches for Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
Pletcher indicated before entries were drawn Sept. 13 he desired the outside post for Rags to Riches. She did indeed draw post 5. John Velazquez, aboard in the Belmont, has the mount.
Rags to Riches carries 122 pounds, three to seven more than her rivals.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is going on the assumption that the time is ripe to catch Rags to Riches when she might be at her most vulnerable -- running for the first time in 98 days.
McLaughlin saddles Lear’s Princess, who was the runner-up in both the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) at Belmont and Alabama. This will be her first meeting with the Belmont winner.
“I have a lot of respect for [Pletcher] and his filly,” McLaughlin said, “but maybe this is the time to take her on.”
Lear’s Princess, who races for West Point Thoroughbreds, will race with blinkers for the first time in her career.
“I think she still has had something left in the tank in her last two races,” McLaughlin said. “I think the blinkers will help her focus a little more. I don’t think there is a negative to putting them on. I don’t expect her to be rank.”
Eibar Coa rides Lear’s Princess from the rail post.
Tough Tiz’s Sis has already butted heads with Rags to Riches to no avail. In the Kentucky Oaks, Tough Tiz’s Sis finished 17 1/4 lengths behind Rags to Riches. Since then, the Bob Baffert-trained filly won the Hollywood Breeders’ Cup Oaks (gr. II) and was sixth in the Alabama.
Dorm Fever, winner of the restricted Heed Stakes at Saratoga, and allowance winner Le Chateau complete the field.