Todd Pletcher has won more than 5,000 races in his extraordinary training career. One stands out above the rest.
That would be the 2007 Belmont Stakes, when big-hearted Rags to Riches became only the third filly to win the famed “Test of the Champion” and the first since Tanya in 1905.
“I still consider it to be our sweetest victory,” Pletcher said during a 2016 interview at Belmont Park. “It was the first classic for us, and any time you win a classic, that is significant in its own right. The fact that it was with a filly, and it hadn’t happened in 100 years, made it more so.”
Pletcher is not one to shoot from the hip. Every move he makes is thought out thoroughly and re-thought. He debated long and hard about whether to enter Rags to Riches in the Belmont, and ultimately decided to do so only after Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense was withdrawn from consideration.
Getting the mile and a half in the Belmont has so much to do with breeding. The bloodlines of Rags to Riches made it compelling to give her an opportunity to go that uncommon distance. Her sire, A.P. Indy, took the Belmont In 1992. Her dam, Better Than Honour, produced Jazil, the Belmont winner in 2006.
“She seemed to be put on earth for this type of race,” Pletcher said.
Rags to Riches was no delicate lady, asserting herself in the barn and on the racetrack. “There was never any question we felt she was the type of filly you could consider taking on the colts with,” her trainer noted. “She was big enough, strong enough.”
The chestnut filly was in excellent form, having swept four consecutive races since her failed debut. She was coming off an emphatic 4 ¼-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks, the companion race to the Kentucky Derby for 3-year-old fillies, suggesting she had little else to prove within her division. Pletcher, after extensive discussion with co-owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, decided to swing for the fences.
The strategy appeared to be misguided when Rags to Riches stumbled badly leaving the starting gate. But John Velazquez, her jockey, stayed cool and they gradually made their way toward the front of the pack. When she turned for home, the battle was on.
In the memorable words of track announcer Tom Durkin, here is how it unfolded: “And at the top of the stretch, a filly is in front at the Belmont. But Curlin is right there with her. These two, in a battle of the sexes in the Belmont Stakes. It is Curlin on the inside, Rags to Riches on the outside. A desperate finish! Rags to Riches and Curlin! They’re coming down to the wire! It’s going to be very close! And it’s going to be ... a filly in the Belmont! Rags to Riches has beaten Curlin and a hundred years of Belmont history! The first filly to win it in over a century!”
Although Rags to Riches ran only once more that season, finishing second to Lear’s Princess in the Gazelle, she earned the Eclipse Award as the champion 3-year-old filly in North America. She never raced again after the Gazelle due to an injury to her right-front pastern.
As small as her seven-race body of work was, Pletcher believes she is deserving of induction into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. Indisputably, her performance in the Belmont was one for the ages.
Note: This story was originally published in June 2016.
- Rags to Riches so looked the part of a good filly that employees at the training center in Ocala, Fla., where she was broken referred to her as a “runway model.”
- John Velazquez needed to be released from an assignment aboard Slew’s Tizzy so he could ride Rags to Riches in the Belmont.
- No filly started in the Belmont from the time Silverbulletday finished seventh in 1999 until Rags to Riches won in 2007. Rags was the 22nd filly to start overall.
- Rags to Riches was initially based at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky., as a broodmare. She was exported to Ireland in 2009 has since returned to the U.S.
- Opulence, the first foal delivered by Rags to Riches, never raced.
- Her son Rhett Butler, by Galileo, was a champion in Hungary. She was bred to American Pharoah in 2020.