When a filly costs $1.9 million as a yearling, expectations run high. Yet Rags to Riches soared beyond those initial hopes by vaulting out of a maiden victory straight into the $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) Feb. 10 at Santa Anita Park and overcoming a wide trip for an authoritative win.
Rags to Riches' plotted-out racing career is a textbook example of how to improve a catalog page. When she sold at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2005, she attracted seven figures by her looks and as a daughter of A.P. Indy out of Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) winner Better Than Honour. Second dam Blush With Pride numbered the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) among her wins and had produced three stakes winners, but Better Than Honour had only one minor winner at that time.
Two years later, Rags to Riches is a half-sister to Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Jazil and is now a grade I winner herself after only three starts. If $1.9 million can ever look like a bargain, Rags to Riches may have been a steal.
Agent Demi O'Byrne bought Rags to Riches (bred in Kentucky by Skara Glen Stables) for Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor. At the same sale for them, he paid $950,000 for Ravel, the 3-year-old colt who won the Sham Stakes (gr. III) a week earlier at Santa Anita. Following the sale, Smith and Tabor put Rags to Riches and Ravel into Todd Pletcher's care. The trainer included the horses in his California contingent last fall so they could train over the synthetic Cushion Track surface at Hollywood Park.
Pletcher doesn't get official credit for either the Sham or the Las Virgenes because he was serving a 45-day suspension. Instead, those two wins went to Pletcher's assistant, Michael McCarthy. McCarthy has overseen the California group for Pletcher since they arrived and also was with Rags to Riches in Kentucky when she made her debut at Churchill Downs June 10.
Her half-brother Jazil fared better than she did that day when he won the Belmont in New York. Rags to Riches finished fourth in a sprint under jockey Brice Blanc, and Pletcher let her grow into herself. McCarthy said Rags to Riches has thrived over the Cushion Track.
"I think training over the Cushion Track is great," McCarthy said. "The horses seem to relish it."
Rags to Riches next faced the starter Jan. 7 at Santa Anita, breaking her maiden by an easy six lengths at seven furlongs, this time with Garrett Gomez aboard. That effort not only propelled her into the Las Virgenes, it made her the favorite over seven stakes winners, including graded winners Romance Is Diane, Cash Included, Jump On In, and Baroness Thatcher.
"She does everything so easily in the mornings," McCarthy said. "She's just a beautifully made filly—all class."
Rags to Riches needed that class to overcome drawing the outside post in the one-mile race. She broke a little to the outside and ended up wide throughout, having to travel over more real estate than her rivals.
Nevertheless, she overhauled Baroness Thatcher to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:37.85. Runway Rosie finished third, followed by Cash Included, Swiss Diva, Quick Little Miss, Romance Is Diane, and Jump On In.
"The horse I barely ended up going by (Baroness Thatcher) was on the fence the whole way," said Gomez, "and when I turned for home, I'm eight wide. She overcame a lot today, and she's not very seasoned."
McCarthy said Rags to Riches could run next in the March 11 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), though he deferred to Pletcher and the owners about that decision. It's a race that her second dam won when it was called the Santa Susana.