The first filly to win the Belmont Stakes since Tanya won in 1905 and only the third in the history of the Stakes (Ruthless was the first) took the title on June 9, 2007 at Belmont Park. And what a race it was, gathering herself together after she stumbled out of the gate, loping along at a reasonable pace under John Velazquez until he asked her to move, then picking off horses, and refusing to give way to Curlin.
Not only did she win beautifully, showing grit and heart, she knew she won. Velazquez circled her back to the crowd in the stands, where she stood gracefully acknowledging their cheers, confident in the knowledge that she was their Queen, and they were her adoring subjects. Her poise and personality shone as brightly as her talent. I hope she's not quickly retired and put out as a broodmare - I want to see more of her grace, beauty, and competitive spirit on the race track.
The sour grapes amongst the handicappers who didn't think she should be in there in the first place grumbled that she won because she was fresh and because she had a five pound lighter weight advantage. Regular readers know I think the whole weight debate is complete and utter bull. Five pounds does not affect a 1200 pound horse that way; exercise riders regularly work out horses at much higher weights, and in my opinion, the weight requirements for jockeys should be raised so they can remain healthy. She was the best horse that day, and has proven herself to be one of the best three year olds of either gender. Remember, the only race she's ever lost was her very first race. She didn't like it much and resolved it wasn't going to happen again anytime soon. She's smart, tough, and learns from race to race. Even though Velazquez was not her regular race rider, he is the first call rider for trainer Todd Pletcher's barn, and she's smart enough to know when she's got a good pilot on her back. She made the decision to work with him, not against him, and together, they gained the victory. And Velazquez was extraordinarily gracious in thanking Rags to Riches's regular rider, Garrett Gomez (aboard Hard Spun) for his insight into the filly. There's a reason Velazquez gets the first class horses: In addition to being an outstanding rider, he's also a class act himself.
I have to admit that Curlin deserves more respect than I've given him in the races thus far. He gave it his all. There was simply no way Rags to Riches was going to let anybody else win that race. Tiago came in a respectable third and Hard Spun fourth. I was surprised that Hard Spun wasted energy disagreeing with his rider instead of concentrating on the race, but that could have had something to do with the rider switch. He had Rags to Riches's usual rider, and while he decided to fight, Rags simply got down to business and got the job done. In other words, she ran a more mature race than he did. I still think Hard Spun is an extraordinary horse, and that Tiago's summer and fall campaigns will be outstanding.
There were other races that day, although you'd never know it from the major network coverage. I had a rocky start with my picks when Trippi Appeal was scratched, leaving me with Lord Snowden, who made it clear in the paddock and later on the track that he had no interest in running a race that day. He came in fifth.
In the second race, Risky Agenda was scratched. Stage Dream looked ready to rock, although she did not want to go into the gate. Street Bird was a beauty, and looked like she was in good form. No one, however, looked at good as Prom Party, and she moved from "I'd like to look at her" to "Wow!" And she wowed the crowd, with a lovely win. Stage Dream looked like she gave up part way through, then dug down and revived to make it to second. Street Bird went to wide on the turn and never recovered, tiring before she could hit the board, coming in a disappointing sixth.
For the third race, my favorite pick, Frost Giant, was scratched, and I started to get annoyed by the scratch pattern. AP Arrow didn't look as good as I'd like. Evening Attire just likes to be on the track, so he looked good, and Naughty New Yorker looked a bit too anxious for my taste. Naughty New Yorker led at the outset, but Papi Chullo, who downright forgot to leave the gate when it opened, caught up and drew away in a spectacular bit of showmanship. Gary Contessa must be praised for the exceptional work he's done with this horse since he got him. The horse is thriving in his care, and he's one to watch come Breeders' Cup in the fall. AP Arrow managed third, with Evening Attire fourth and Naughty New Yorker last.
Originally, I planned to sit out the fourth race, but Smoky Chimney and Berry Bound looked good enough to put into a boxed exacta, so that's what I did. And that's what they did, with Berry Bound coming in first and Smoky Chimney coming in second.
I reshuffled my picks for the fifth race, the Foresta 50K, once I saw them. I dropped Daytime Promise and Beautiful Daniele, who just didn't look like they were in the mood to win that day. Dean's List was scratched (I was really OVER my picks getting scratched race by race at this point). I liked Meribel in person even better than on paper, and kept her as my top choice. Flow Chart also looked good. I almost added Criminologist, but decided to look at her, but not bet. Flow Chart nearly wired it, but Meribel, who was unsteady and unhappy early in the race, rallied and flew past everyone to take a clear win. Flow Chart just couldn't hold her off, and finished fifth, with Criminologist finishing sixth (which made me glad I hadn't bet on her).
Suave Jazz didn't look as on top of it in the sixth race (the True North) as he looked at Pimlico three weeks ago. I was a little worried, but not enough to throw him out. Dashboard Drummer looked great. Keyed Entry didn't seem happy, and that worried me, but Bordenaro looked good. Unfortunately, Keyed Entry lugged out so wide and took Bordenaro with him on the turn that neither horse could make up the lost ground. The race was won by a horse called Will He Shine, ridden by Edgar Prado, who scooted up the rail when no one was looking. Suave Jazz hung on for second, and Dashboard Drummer dug in for third.
I stuck to my pick in the seventh race, the Just a Game. My concern was that My Typhoon and Wait a While would wear each other out and that Take The Ribbon would sneak in and steal the race. My Typhoon led, but kept the pace slow, with Wait A While poised just behind her. They kept that up for most of the race, until My Typhoon decided she'd played enough and drew off, winning by four lengths! Wait A While held her second spot, and Take the Ribbon was third.
In the Woody Stephens, the eighth race, Street Magician was a disappointment, not really staying in the game and finishing fifth. Stormello gave too much too soon and ended up third. Bill Place dug in for a respectable fourth, a good step up in class for him here. Out of Gwedda was scratched (sigh). Deadly Dealer started well, but tired out too quickly. The race was won by Teuflesberg.
Race 9, the Acorn, to me, looked to be the widest open. Every horse in it was a question mark. Cotton Blossom (not one of my picks) was an impressive winner, especially after bobbling at the start and going wide on the turn. But she wouldn't give up and won, running down my pick Dream Rush, who gave too much too fast. Christmas Kid, another of my picks, was third, while Princess Janie was a disappointing fifth.
I have to say how proud I was of Better Talk Now in the Manhattan . I've bet on this horse consistently for years; sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. I hoped he'd hit the board today - I bet on him more for sentiment than anything else. And he won, barely beating one of my other picks, English Channel . It looked like BTN was done early, but this horse does not give up on his good days, and this was definitely a good day. I liked what I saw of Shakis in the paddock, and he took third. I skipped Cosmonaut this time around, which was fine, since he came in fourth - he still gets some purse money, but I wouldn't have gotten anything back on the bet, so it was worth it to pass. Much as I like Steppenwolfer, I passed on him today - he didn't look to me like he was going to do it, and he didn't, coming in last.
Iron Goddess kicked butt in the 12 th race, just like I hoped she would, and I hope to see more of her in Saratoga this summer. I decided against Abbyroar in the paddock (good thing, she finished second to last), and Freakazoid never made it in.
My faith in Stately Pegasus was rewarded in the final race of the day. He won, although it looked like he gave up early, then reconsidered and decided he wasn't going to be left behind, and came back for the win. Seittam was a disappointment throughout, racing so wide only a super horse could have made up the ground, and he came in ninth. Topsail never made it into the race, so I'll have to bet on that horse another day.
There are three extraordinary horses from Friday's race card that must be watched throughout the summer and fall if you love racing. They all happen to be female. Silence Dogood won the Babae coming from way behind, just barely outrunning my other favorite, Enchantal. Enchantal is a daughter of War Chant. She both looks like her Daddy and has his grit. The other filly is Lauren's Tizzy, a daughter of Tiznow, who won the fourth race of that day in style.
This was a good weekend for fillies, and for the sport in general. Another uplifting trend I noticed, especially on the Friday before the Belmont Stakes, was how many women were at the track, both singly and in groups. When I started writing about the sport I loved for so many years back in 1999, most of the women there were either arm candy in the clubhouse or bored little girlfriends following around their beer-swilling, cigar-chomping t-shirted boyfriends through the grandstands. On the days when I attended the races by myself, I was often the only female there on my own. Now, both groups of women and women on their own, of all ages, come out for a day at the track to enjoy one of the most beautiful and exciting sports in the world. Which is how it should be.
And look how much we had to cheer this past weekend! The spirit of the filly Ruffian, the only champion buried in Belmont 's infield, must be proud.