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Rags to Riches adds a distaff touch to the Belmont.
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Skip Dickstein

Steve Haskin's Belmont Report: The End of the Road

It’s been a wild and crazy Triple Crown (no tip intended) with lots of twist and curves, and it all comes to a rousing conclusion in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Will Curlin finally regress, and if so, how much? How special is Rags to Riches? Will Hard Spun be able to slow down the pace? Stay tuned for the answers to these and other questions.

As for trying to select a winner in this race, you have to have a strong conviction one way or the other and just go with it. But, remember, unless we’re talking about a Secretariat or a Point Given or an Easy Goer, anything can happen when 3-year-olds go a mile and a half for the first time. One thing about these three horses and Risen Star, all of whom romped by huge margins in the Belmont Stakes, is that they were big long-striding horses who loved the sweeping turns at Belmont.

Curlin certainly fits that bill, and if he still has another big effort in him, he is capable of joining those names. But each time this extraordinary colt runs, you always have to ask yourself if this is the race in which he is going to regress. So far, despite cramming his first five career races into a 3 1/2-month period, he has not taken a step backward, and in fact, took a leap forward in the Preakness (gr. I). Now, the question is, was it too big a leap?

One thing we do know, if Curlin wins the Belmont, the word “great” will accompany him wherever he goes. The same can be said for Rags to Riches. Talking to people around the backstretch, they either feel strongly that she will manhandle the boys or will meet her match facing top-quality males at 12 furlongs. Traditional handicapping tools will not be of much help in figuring out who is right, which makes the race even more intriguing.

From a physical standpoint, you certainly can’t fault any of the Belmont starters, but an attempt at least will be made to point out some of the ones who may be overlooked in the wagering, and who could possibly upset this field, although none of the longshots would be a real shocker, mainly because of their recent form combined with their stamina-laden pedigrees.

There have been two major observations over the past four days. Tiago has made tremendous progress physically since the Derby and appears fitter while still maintaining his flesh. He has excellent muscle tone and also has been a standout in his gallops, with his best and strongest gallop coming this morning. No one, obviously, knows if he’s good enough to beat these horses, but he couldn’t be coming into the race any better, and was really motoring along with powerful strides in his gallop this morning.

The other main observation is that Hard Spun has not only continued to hold his flesh following two hard races, but actually looks stronger than he did before the Derby, and his coat couldn’t be looking any better. And this is with lugging his 180-pound trainer around each morning.

Furthermore, if anyone feels that Rags to Riches might lack the toughness to handle the colts, be assured this is one feisty gal who has been the dominant female all her life. She knows what she wants and usually gets it. So, she will not be intimidated by Curlin or anyone else.

If you want an example of Curlin’s class, you only had to watch him school in the paddock Thursday. He stood in an enclosed saddling stall for some 25 minutes without turning a hair. With his tongue sticking out slightly the entire time, he stood motionless, occasionally lifting his head and cocking his ears when something in the walking ring attracted his attention. While others schooling became washy, some dripping in the hot weather, Curlin remained cool and dry as he walked around the ring without a trace of sweat.

One horse who will not get tired in the Belmont is Imawildandcrazyguy, who is light on his feet in his gallops and just keeps going and going at a strong, steady pace.

If you were a fan of Tiznow , you’ll love Slew’s Tizzy, who is similar to his sire in looks and scope. He has the same powerful physique and dark rich coat, but with more gray hairs throughout.

Finally, C P West stood out in appearance before the Preakness and obviously hasn’t changed since then. This is an improving colt who may have telegraphed his blows in his breakout performance in the Preakness. With his powerful female family, he should have no problem getting the mile and a half.

So, what does all this mean? It could mean this is a more wide-open race than people think, or it could mean absolutely nothing; that Curlin is tons better than anyone else, or maybe Rags to Riches is racing’s next superstar. Or maybe Hard Spun finally is going to get a pace scenario that will help and not hurt him.

If the first scenario is correct, then any of the four outsiders has a shot. Based on observations, combining physical attributes and gallops, and throwing in pedigree as well, Tiago is worth a wager or at least be included in all exactas and trifectas.

Or you might consider putting C P West in there if you’re looking for a dangerous longshot, who has a dangerous New York trainer (Nick Zito), is the only horse in the race to have run at Belmont (second in the grade II Futurity Stakes), is improving with every race, and who may have had his coming out party in the Preakness.