by Tom Pedulla
The New York Racing Association introduces a weekly series of diaries to help celebrate the 150th Belmont Stakes on June 9 at Belmont Park. "In Their Own Words" will feature prominent owners, trainers and jockeys as they re-live some of the most stirring moments in the rich history of the "Test of the Champion."
The series opens with trainer Todd Pletcher taking readers behind the scenes to understand the bold decision to enter Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont and his emotions during the scintillating stretch duel with Curlin that enabled her to join Ruthless (1867) and Tanya (1905) as the only fillies to win the Belmont Stakes.
Future diaries will feature:
Cot Campbell, an innovator in creating racing partnerships, remembers what was "the mother of all great moments" for him, when Palace Malice rebounded from a disastrous Kentucky Derby to win the Belmont in 2013.
Ogden Phipps II, a fourth-generation owner and breeder, recalls how Easy Goer turned the tables on Sunday Silence in 1989 after stinging defeats in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Marylou Whitney, celebrated as the "Queen of Saratoga" and one of the most prominent women in racing history, tells of the day she sent Birdstone to upset Smarty Jones in 2004.
Jockey Steve Cauthen takes readers along for the ride when Affirmed denied Alydar for the third time in their monumental Triple Crown trilogy in 1978.
Trail-blazing jockey Julie Krone shares her emotions in becoming the first female rider to win a Triple Crown race, aboard Colonial Affair in 1993.
Ahmed Zayat recounts the 2015 romp that allowed the great American Pharoah to end the longest drought in Triple Crown history.
Ron Turcotte reflects on one of the great athletic feats of all time, human or equine, when Secretariat moved "like a tremendous machine."
Here is the first installment:
By Todd Pletcher with Tom Pedulla
Soon after Rags to Riches crossed the finish line as an authoritative winner of the Kentucky Oaks, we began thinking about and discussing whether we should put her to the huge test of running against males in the Belmont Stakes.
The first order of business was to make sure she was doing well and training well. She could not have been doing or training any better.
We knew she was bred perfectly for the mile-and-a-half Belmont. Her sire, A.P. Indy, won the race in 1992. Her dam, Better Than Honour, produced 2006 Belmont winner Jazil. She generated tremendous power with her hind legs. It was beautiful to watch her train and run. She seemed to be put on earth to run in this type of race.
She also had the demeanor to meet the challenge. She was very tough to deal with in her stall. That was her space, and you had better respect it. Once she was out of the stall, though, and a rider was on her back, she was the consummate professional and a joy to train.
As much as we had confidence in Rags to Riches, it was a particularly strong group of 3-year-old colts with Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Preakness winner Curlin and Hard Spun, second in the Derby and third in the Preakness. To run against two of them was one thing. The thought of running against all three was maybe reason not to run.
The discussion went back and forth with racing manager Demi O'Byrne and co-owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. When Street Sense wasn't going to go, we felt like that was the little break we needed to finalize our decision. We still might have run if Street Sense was in, but that was the tiebreaker that convinced us to give it a try.
The Belmont could not have started any worse. Rags to Riches basically fell on her head, with her nose scraping the ground. Johnny Velazquez did a remarkable job just staying on board. My thought when it first happened was 'Here we spent pretty much five weeks worrying about whether we were making the right decision to run, and basically it is all over in the first jump.' She just stumbled so badly, I thought there was no chance.
Johnny stayed calm and Rags to Riches recovered and got herself back into position. I can't recall another race in my career where there were so many different emotions. She fell on her head where you think you can't win from there to regaining some hope that she can hit the board and then turning for home thinking she's going to win and then Curlin battling back and thinking he's going to win by a nose and then her battling back. It's amazing how many different emotions you can experience in less than two and a half minutes.
It was certainly the most thrilling race I've been involved in and the most excited I've been watching a race. Over the years, people have told me it was one of their most memorable races as well. I was standing next to my wife, Tracy, and jumping up and down. I inadvertently stepped on one of her big toes, leaving her with a nasty bruise. I am still apologizing for that.
When Rags to Riches finally stuck her head in front, it was excitement, it was jubilation, it was everything you could hope for in a horse race. It was the first classic win for our team. She was the first filly in more than 100 years to win the Belmont, and she did it at our home course.
When you look back at it now and you know what Curlin went on to do, it makes it all the more remarkable. You're talking about defeating an eventual two-time Horse of the Year, a Breeders' Cup Classic winner, a Dubai World Cup winner.
It was a phenomenal performance by a very courageous filly that I will repeat over and over is worthy of Hall of Fame induction. For whatever reason, she's been overlooked. Hopefully, at some point, that will change and she will receive the honor she deserves.
For sure, Rags to Riches won a race for the ages.
To view the video of the 2007 Belmont Stakes, visit: https://www.belmontstakes.com/history/in-their-own...
NYRA Press Office