There was a seven-horse field that filed its way into the starting gate for the 2007 Belmont Stakes. The muscular chestnut, Curlin, was the even-money favorite. The comely chestnut filly, Rage to Riches, was the No. 7. She was sent against the colts by trainer Todd Pletcher. He was in search of the first Belmont Stakes win by a filly in 102 years.
The day was in the early evening. It had been filling with thickening clouds and old-timers who had grown up on farms could smell the coming rain.
The large crowd seemed unconcerned by possible rain that might hit them broadside before the long race could be completed. Hundreds of bodies pressed against the low-slung chainlink fence that kept them away from the racing surface. The weather wasn’t among the thoughts they had about Curlin or Rags to Riches or Hard Spun.
When all the horses were standing evenly in the starting gate, there was no rain . . . and only the tension created by the seconds that come just before the thoroughbreds are loosed from their little enclosures and spring to the task.
While the other six horses were out and already searching for position in the mile-and-a-half endurance test, Rags to Riches had stumbled in the first few yards and touched her nose to the manicured surface. She didn’t fall. She didn’t unseat jockey Garrett Gomez. In fact, she recovered in an instant and was seeking her own challenging position along the backside as the race went more than a half-mile.
The smooth transition from nose full of dirt to moving along crisply only four lengths off the lead had been so clean and untroubled that the earlier stumble seemed to have never happened.
The lithe chestnut went four-wide on the final turn to overtake the previous leaders. She was clearly the leader just yards into the long stretch. And then came Curlin, the model of horse flesh that looked like an unstoppable locomotive engine draped in chestnut-colored clothing.
Curlin caught Rags to Riches. He was a foot in front still a meaningful distance from the wire. That lead of a foot was only shortlived. Rags to Riches went ahead again.
And she stayed. For 50 yards. For 100 yards, For 150 yards. For 200 yards. ‘Til the two rust-colored chestnuts went past the finish line.
History had been revisited. But it had taken 102 years—or since 1905—to find the year when another filly had won the often tortuous Belmont Stakes.
That 2007 Belmont was only the sixth race of Rags to Riches life. And she had beaten the boys!
Before she had ever run a race, she was so well-bred and had so many of thoroughbred racing’s stars in her genealogy that it had taken a $1.9 million bid by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith to win her at auction at the September 2005 Keeneland Sales.
She had A. P. Indy as her father. And Seattle Slew as her grandfather. Secretariat was her great-grandfather and just before him came Bold Ruler, Northern Dancer, Buckpasser, and Boldnesian.
Twenty-four karat gold. Twenty-four karat lineage. Twenty-four karat bloodlines.
Before the Belmont Stakes had come successes in the Las Virgenes Stakes, in the Santa Anita Oaks, in the Kentucky Oaks.
Trainer Pletcher had his fully visible reasons for having Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes.
In her five career races, she had been first in four of them. However, she had never run against males at any time.
These other horses in the Belmont Stakes were all colts.
And there she was, four-wide on the final turn. And being washed in applause in the winner’s circle after edging Curlin.
She didn’t race again until the Sept. 15 Gazelle Stakes. After the second-place in the Gazelle, she was retired. A leg injury was found in the aftermath of the Gazelle, and she was removed from training. There had been an injury after her first race and she had made a successful recovery from that trouble.
Early in 2008, her training was resumed, but then in late March, Pletcher told of her retirement due to another injury to the same leg.
The startling Rags to Riches had raced only seven times in her two years. The wins had numbered five. And the earnings were $1,340,028.
It is likely she will always be remembered for her win in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. Curlin vs. the Little Chestnut Lady. And Rags to Riches held off the barrel-chested Curlin.