Again a horse stumbled out of the gate, and again that
horse was in front at the finish. Only it wasn’t Curlin,
and it wasn’t even a colt. It was Rags to Riches, who not
only took on and took down her male contemporaries, but
did what no filly had done in more than a century: win
the Belmont Stakes.
And all the US racing world should be saying is ‘Thank
you, thank you, thank you.’ Not just because this
extraordinary filly has made the 2007 racing season far
more interesting than it was two weeks ago, but because
she IS a filly.
Not only that, she is a filly who belongs to owners who
care about US racing, even if they aren’t American.
Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith are British; both have
backgrounds as the British bookmakers; and both grew up in
a country where the idea that three year olds, and
especially three year old fillies, cannot negotiate a mile
and a half, is a non-starter.
When Rags to Riches got up off her knees after breaking
from the Belmont starting gate and began running, US
racing may have gotten up off its knees and began running
again as well. With no chance of a Triple Crown winner
coming out of the race; with no hope of a Street
Sense/Curlin match race, and with no hope that either of
those two colts is likely to set foot on a racetrack after
this year, there simply wasn’t much to get excited about
on Belmont Day.
A Secretariat-like performance from Curlin would certainly
have changed that, but when the pack passed the six
furlong pole in 1:15 and change, as opposed to
Secretariat’s 1.12, there was little doubt that we were
witnessing a rather typical and forgettable Belmont
Three furlongs later, however, all that had changed.
Curlin, in a remarkable bit of athleticism for a horse of
his dimensions, threaded his way through an opening
between C.P. West and Slew’s Tizzy, while Rags to Riches
had clear sailing four horses wide, and at the top of the
home stretch the two of them entered another zone. The
rest is American racing history, and American racing can
rejoice for awhile.
While Rags to Riches’ trainer Todd Pletcher does not seem
enthusiastic about running her against colts in the
future, her owners will have the final say. And because
they do not have to be cautious about preserving her
racing record and potential stud fees, they may once again
make the American racing public their priority. How
refreshing that would be!
My final thoughts on Triple Crown 2007 is that of all the
horses involved, the one which hooves-down ran off and
hid, in terms of his accomplishments, from all the other
contenders, was Curlin. I posted before his Preakness
victory that I thought he resembled his distant ancestor
Man o’ War. And when Curlin’s Triple Crown campaign is
viewed in its entirety, he can be described as nothing
else but a throwback to the Thoroughbreds of the 1920s and
Curling had to do everything he did without having any
experience racing as a two-year-old. And what he did was
win his first three races by a combined 29 lengths, and
then head to Louisville and manage to outrun seventeen
far more seasoned animals, many of whom were major stakes
winners, after having traffic problems for nearly the
entire mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby.
Next came the Preakness, where he fell to his knees coming
out of the gate, had Street Sense pass him in the stretch
because he failed to change his leads, and then came back
after being passed to win the race in record equaling
time. His speed figures for the Preakness were the best of
The ‘bounce’, a term unheard of in racing days of yore,
did not catch up with Curlin at Pimlico, but many a racing
guru said that it would in the Belmont. It clearly did
not, and this horse, in the past five weeks, has proved
beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is truly the stuff of
champions. I sincerely hope that he and Rags to Riches
have another date, if not on the race track then, one day,
in the breeding shed!
Picture of Rags to Riches winning the Belmont Stakes