The suspense was so thick, you could cut it with a… Well, maybe it wasn’t quite that thick, but at least there was a some anticipation to see what Todd Pletcher was going to do regarding Rags to Riches’ status in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). After putting off his decision as long as possible, he finally made the announcement at 9:30 Tuesday morning.
Let’s jump right to the lyrics of the Tony Bennett hit song that shares the same name as the filly: “Will I go from rags to riches? My fate is up to you.” Although Rags to Riches has never seen a metaphorical rag in her life, the lyrics ring true. The riches that await her are monumental, and her fate was up to Pletcher.
In the end, he, with the blessing of co-owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, decided to strive for greatness and attempt something that hasn’t been accomplished since 1905.
The reason for all the interest was simple: the Belmont needed Rags to Riches to give the final leg of the Triple Crown more pizzazz. That is not to imply that Curlin, and even Hard Spun, are not capable of spicing up the race, but we’re talking about a filly in the Belmont, and one they’re calling the best seen in many years. And how amazing would it be to have brother and sister win back-to-back Belmonts? Finally, with the movie “Ruffian” airing hours after the Belmont, what a magnificent lead-in a victory by Rags to Riches would provide.
Ratings no doubt will escalate, at least to some degree, not only for the movie, but for the Belmont telecast, giving ABC a horse racing bonanza on Saturday.
Also, without Rags to Riches, the Belmont field would not have had a single horse stabled at BelmontPark.
Pedigree-wise, Rags to Riches’ sire, A.P. Indy, won the Belmont. A.P. Indy’s sire, Seattle Slew, won the Belmont and sired two Belmont winners. A.P. Indy’s broodmare sire, Secretariat, won the Belmont and sired a Belmont winner. Rags to Riches’ broodmare sire, Deputy Minister, sired a Belmont winner. That’s four Belmont winners represented in her first two generations and two more in her third generation.
So, Tuesday began with a bang, and by the end of the day, Curlin and Slew’s Tizzy should be settled in at Belmont following their projected 4 p.m. arrival and we can get down to some serious activity in the days leading up to the race. Serious meaning seeing how the horses are looking, behaving, and how comfortable they seem to be on the Belmont mega-oval.
Garrett Gomez, for example, said Hard Spun was not focused in his work Monday as much as he should have been, but he handled his 1 3/8-mile gallop this morning with no problem. It’s interesting that when Hard Spun gallops you can hear him coming an eighth of a mile away. The only thing missing was smoke coming out of his nostrils. But when he works or races, he makes absolutely no noise at all.
Speaking of Gomez, who was Rags to Riches’ regular rider, he and agent Ron Anderson had made a commitment to ride Hard Spun after it looked like the filly would not run in the Belmont. When Pletcher changed course the day before entries, Anderson quickly put out a feeler with Hard Spun’s trainer Larry Jones to see how much he’d be willing to budge, without asking directly to be released from his commitment. Because Gomez had been given several days by Jones to decide what he wanted to, and because he had already familiarized himself with Hard Spun in a workout at Belmont on Monday, Jones said he intended to keep Gomez on the horse.
That set the wheels in motion for John Velazquez and agent Angel Cordero, who had made a commitment to ride Slew’s Tizzy in the Belmont. But when Cordero contacted Slew’s Tizzy’s trainer, Greg Fox, he was given the OK to ride the filly. Fox told Cordero he understood his situation with Pletcher and released him from the mount. He immediately received a phone call from Rafael Bejarano looking to ride the horse and proceeded to give him the mount. Bejarano is familiar with two of the Belmont starters. He was aboard Curlin when the colt broke his maiden by 12 3/4 lengths in his career debut, and won an allowance race on Imawildandcrazyguy by 10 lengths.
So, once again, Pletcher and Velazquez will team up to try to win their first classic. To finally do it with a filly, and one as gifted as Rags to Riches, would make the occasion all the more special.
Inside the Belmont
With Wednesday’s post position draw not likely to have much bearing on the race, let’s look at some lesser, but somewhat interesting angles.
There still is a Triple Crown of sorts out there waiting to be swept. If Mark Guidry can get Imawildandcrazy home first, it will complete a Cajun Triple Crown, with fellow bayou brothers Calvin Borel and Robby Albarado already in the history books this year.
And speaking of Imawildandcrazyguy, how close are the parallels between him and last year’s Belmont winner Jazil? Both came from 20th to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby, with Jazil beaten 9 1/2 lengths and Imawildandcrazyguy beaten 8 1/2 lengths. Jazil was 24-1 and Imawildandcrazyguy was 28-1. Both were beaten a length or less for third by a horse coming out of the Arkansas Derby (gr. II). And, of course, both skipped the Preakness to point for the Belmont.
Pedigree question: what do Curlin and Tiago have in common? Their paternal and maternal grandsires both sired Belmont winners (Curlin--Mr. Prospector and Deputy Minister; Tiago--Pleasant Colony and Stop the Music). And we already mentioned Rags to Riches’ influence, so, there certainly is no shortage of Belmont pedigrees this year.
One statistic for Triple Crown purists: in the last 10 runnings of the Belmont, only three have been won by horses who ran in the Derby and Preakness – Victory Gallop (1998), Point Given (2001), and Afleet Alex (2005). And in the three of the last four runnings, the winner came out of the Derby without a prep in between, something that had never been accomplished before the unlikely Commendable pulled it off in 2000.