Ottawa Citizen

Filly completes Rags to Riches story at Belmont Stakes

- BY MARYJEAN WALL

• Girlfriend, trite as ELMONT, New York it sounds, we just have to say: You go, filly. You won the Belmont Stakes.

On this historic day at Belmont Park, Rags to Riches put away 102 years of history when she held off Curlin by a head to win the 139th running of this American classic.

What an ending to this year’s Triple Crown season this turned out to be. Rags to Riches broke the Todd Pletcher jinx, giving the trainer his first Triple Crown victory in 29 attempts.

She also gave her jockey, John Velazquez his first triumph in a Triple Crown race of Kentucky Derby, Preakness, or Belmont Stakes.

Most of all, she became the first filly since Tanya in 1905 to win this 1

1⁄2- mile race. To put her win in all its perspectiv­e, Rags to Riches is only the third filly to win this stakes in 22 such attempts.

It was the perfect ending to an extraordin­ary spring season:

Street Sense broke a jinx when he became the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes champion to win the Kentucky Derby.

Two weeks later in the Preakness, Curlin outdueled Street Sense to win by a head, setting up the Belmont as a showdown between the top three: Street Sense, Curlin, and Hard Spun.

Then Street Sense defected from the potential lineup for the Belmont. The showdown deflated like a balloon losing air.

It took girl power to turn this nobuzz Belmont Stakes into a jaw- dropping whopper of a race.

Rags to Riches, daughter of Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, didn’t just scale the glass ceiling yesterday. She stomped all over it.

She recovered from stumbling at the start. She overcame a slow pace in front of her. And then — trumpets, please — she spit in Curlin’s eye and outgamed him in a good oldfashion­ed, ding-dong battle through the homestretc­h.

And she wasn’t even the favorite. She was second choice to Preakness Stakes winner Curlin. But she ended the race first choice of nearly everyone in this Belmont crowd of 46,870. The applause she received at the winner’s circle was a show in itself.

People applauded her not just because she had accomplish­ed some- thing highly irregular, beating males in a top-level, Grade I classic. They applauded her all the more because she defeated the Preakness winner in a stirring duel to the finish.

“The reception was unbelievab­le,” Pletcher said.

Velazquez said he got goose bumps even before the race, when he realized how “pumped up about the filly” people were when they went through the saddling paddock and walking ring.

“People in the race, people are yelling and screaming,” the jockey said. “It was really a great thing to see the crowd enjoying the races.”

It’s precisely what makes this sport so intense, so gripping, and so surprising when the unexpected happens. Like a filly beating colts in the Belmont Stakes.

This might not have happened, had not Pletcher and his longtime owners, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, rolled the dice. They said they would not have taken on the top three colts of this season had Street Sense gone in the Belmont Stakes.

The filly’s win might never have happened had she not recovered from her stumble as she broke from the gate. Her nose went to her knees. “My heart stopped,” Velazquez said. After the race, Pletcher recalled a day at Keeneland this spring when he stepped inside the filly’s stall and she charged at him.

“She’s a little bit bossy,” he said. “That’s what makes her good.” The Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Kentucky)

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