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Rags to Riches wins the Santa Anita Oaks.
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Rags to Riches Flashy Winner of Santa Anita Oaks

After Rags to Riches' masterful march in Sunday's $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), it is hard to not regard the back-to-back grade I winner as the top 3-year-old filly in the nation.

If the Todd Pletcher trainee continues to develop the way she has in her four starts to date, she would be joining some of the all-time great winners of this race such as Winning Colors, Sharp Cat and Serena's Song.

“I was relieved (when she was opening up in the stretch)," Pletcher said. "She’s a lovely filly, push-button to train, one of those special ones you get every so often.”

Pletcher was asked about running her in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

“Well, when we first started out, the plan was the Las Virgenes, the Santa Anita Oaks, and the Kentucky Oaks (May 4), but when you get a filly that’s bred like this, that obviously, the further they go, the better she’s supposed to get, it makes you think about other possibilities.

"She’s had a pretty easy race today, so I’d say it opens up the possibility of maybe trying something in between this and the Kentucky Oaks. We’d have to decide what that is. It maybe opens up the option of running her against colts between now and the Oaks. That (next race) might make a decision on whether or not she actually runs in the Oaks.”

Sent along by jockey Garrett Gomez near the quarter pole while racing third on the outside, the 2-5 choice Rags to Riches assumed command in a matter of a couple of strides. The $1.9 million daughter of A.P. Indy stretched her advantage to about four lengths over the next furlong and won under a hand ride. She completed the 1 1/16-mile Oaks in 1:42 4/5 while winning by 5 1/2 lengths.

Owned by Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor, who bought her out of the Keeneland September yearling sale, the strapping filly jumped from a maiden victory to grade I success in the Las Virgenes Stakes in her last start on Feb. 10. Her victory in the one-mile Las Virgenes was accomplished in spite of losing much ground while racing at least five paths wide the entire journey, making her three-quarters of a length win over Baroness Thatcher all the more impressive.

Sunday, she was on the outside again for Gomez after breaking from the outside post in the field of five, but in a much cozier spot. Racing out of harm's way in fourth, she rated comfortably as Baroness Thatcher and Silver Swallow fought it out on the front end with Cash Included close by on the inside.

Baroness Thatcher set fractions of :23 1/5 and :47 with Silver Swallow turning up the pressure after six furlongs in 1:11 3/5. But as they rounded the bend, Gomez could wait no more and Rags to Riches responded impressively to take the lead. After kicking clear in the stretch, Rags to Riches drifted in some through the stretch but finished with interest under a firm hand.

“She’s just a super nice filly," said Gomez, who won four races on the day. "She’s been perfect so far. Today, she broke straight and I was up closer to the pace, which is where I wanted to be. We were able to clear a couple horses and get closer to the rail past the half mile pole, and we were able to get a breather going to the three-eighths (pole). At the five-sixteenths, she heard a couple of the other guys smooching to their horses, and she got racy. At that point, she just went on about her business.”

Silver Swallow, making her stakes debut after breaking her maiden going seven furlongs Feb. 18 for trainer Bruce Headley, finished second under Alex Solis by one length over Cash Included, ridden by Corey Nakatani.

Out of the Deputy Minister mare Better Than Honour, Rags to Riches has won three consecutive races in 2007 after finishing third in her debut at Churchill Downs in June. She earned $180,000 Sunday and has now banked $360,100. Skara Glen Stables bred her in Kentucky.

“She’ll probably stick with the girls, but at the end of the day, you never know," said co-owner Tabor. "But she is nominated to the Triple Crown.”

Rags to Riches paid $2.80, $2.40, and $2.10. Silver Swallow returned $4 and $2.80. Cash Included, in her best finish since winning the Oak Leaf Breeders' Cup Sept. 30, was $2.60 to show.

Baroness Thatcher and Runway Rosie trailed. Outsiders Slew o' Platinum and Quickandquietqueen scratched.

(Chart, Equibase)