- BELMONT: From 'Rags to Riches'.. Literally
ELMONT, NY -- A week before the 2007 Belmont Stakes, fans and pundits decried a potential edition of the standard devoid of intrigue, competitiveness or appeal. When Rags to Riches crossed the wire first after an epic duel with the ever-game Curlin, providing trainer Todd Pletcher with his initial Triple Crown event victory, those same critics roared their approval for a race that far exceeded expectation and left the 50,000 in attendence delighted.
With most track afternoons played out before audiences of world weary gamblers, rare are the days where intrepid patrons are treated to something most have never seen before. But the 139th running of the Belmont Stakes provided veteran and neophyte visitors with one of those days. Rags to Riches victory, the first by a filly in the oldest Triple Crown race in 102 runnings, will be the kind of memorable moment that those lucky enough to witness it will recall and cherish for years to come.
This edition of the Belmont was required to stand on its' own merits despite the absence of Derby winner Street Sense, and many anticipated a Commendable or Sarava version of this annual June gathering. But instead of this sophomore spring coming to an anti-climactic end after scintillating results in Louisville and Baltimore, the New York stop on this five week odyssey provided the trio of Classics an exclamation point that make it the most notable and pleasureable Triple Crown in recent memory.
The most reasonable expectation coming in to Belmont '07 was that Steve Asmussen's Preakness winner was a likely victor, and the remarkable colt ran yet another stunning race. Other anticipatory interpretations of the race's outcome called for Hard Spun to take his turn in a Classic winner's circle after running admirably at Churchill and Pimlico. And while most agreed the Kentucky and Santa Anita Oaks winner possessed enough talent to run respectably, decidely few committed wholeheartedly to her chances of wearing the carnation blanket.
But Rags to Riches provided Pletcher with a supremely satisfying and extra special first Crown score turning a century of history on its' ear. The win also completed the most unusual back-to-back sibling annexation of an important stake in anyone's collective knowledge. Originally brought on the West Coast scene identified as 'Jazil's little half-sister', the powerful daughter of A.P. Indy lifted racing on her broad shoulders at Big Sandy and gave owners Coolmore a new identity as sportsman of high order for their daring gambit with a runner they stamped as their best three year old early in the year.
For Pletcher, John Velasquez and Michael Tabor, the Triple Crown season closes on a glorious high with a reward that could become legend with little embellishment. For the rest of us, Rags to Riches' heroics in the Belmont strikes a third perfect chord in a five week symphony that will be replayed often in our minds, and reminds everyone why we love racing.