Rags to Riches
She is best remembered for winning a race that had been dominated by male horses for over a century. But on the way to that memorable achievement, she made her way up the ranks in Southern California.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Rags to Riches debuted at Churchill Downs just before the summer of 2006. She produced a fourth place finish before resurfacing at Santa Anita in early 2007. After making a brilliant move on the outside as she neared the homestretch, Rags to Riches manhandled her opponents to win in style. It was an impressive performance, but more was in store for the filly.
Even before she first raced at Santa Anita, Rags to Riches had ties to the Southland. Her sire was none other than A.P. Indy, who won the 1992 San Rafael Stakes and Santa Anita Derby in Arcadia en route to Horse of the Year honors. Like her father, Rags to Riches took down the opposition at that same venue, taking the Grade II Las Virgenes Stakes and Grade I Santa Anita Oaks with respected rider Garrett Gomez and showing the same ability to route that A.P. Indy did at three years of age. After the mile and one-sixteenth Oaks, Rags to Riches headed East to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks.
Starting from the eleventh post and favored at 3-2, Rags to Riches found an excellent striking position early. Staying near the leaders as she traversed over the muddy Churchill Downs main track, Rags to Riches and Gomez put together a determined drive in the stretch to take over the lead and get the Grade I on the first Friday in May. She had the moment that eluded A.P. Indy in Louisville. The colt was scheduled to run in the Kentucky Derby, but was scratched before the race. Whether he would have been the winner is of course unknown, but his daughter appeared in front of tens of thousands as the top filly under the Twin Spires that spring.
What was next for the filly? It turned out to be the June 9 Belmont Stakes, the marathon event that served as the finale for the Triple Crown season. No horse had a chance to sweep the series, but Rags to Riches gave the Test of the Champion instant intrigue with her presence.
If any horse was bred for the mile and one-half distance of the Belmont, it was Rags to Riches. A.P. Indy won the 1992 race, as did Seattle Slew (1977) and Secretariat (1973). Obviously, the Belmont was a part of her family history, but only two fillies had won the Belmont in its long history. The most recent one was Tanya all the way back in 1905. It was an interesting juxtaposition where Rags to Riches was concerned. She had history on her side, yet was also required to do battle with it if she was to win.
Starting from the far outside in a field of seven, Rags to Riches had an awkward start but quickly recovered to stay near the leaders while racing wide. Moving through crawling fractions, Rags to Riches and new rider John Velasquez made a four wide move in the far turn, the crowd cheering loudly as track announcer Tom Durkin announced her name. As she straightened at the top of the stretch, Rags to Riches found herself taking on Preakness Stakes champion Curlin, the race favorite. She got the lead for a moment, then Curlin took it back. Then Rags to Riches regained it. Then Curlin put his head in front. It was an epic battle between the colt and the filly, each one driving and determined to win the third leg of the Triple Crown as the crowd roared.
With a sixteenth of a mile left, Rags to Riches got her head in front. Curlin was not going down without a fight, staying right with her. Both horses were worthy to be called champion of the Belmont Stakes that day, but history was destined to be made. Rags to Riches battled with all her might, and her grit paid off as she became the first filly in over one hundred years to win the Belmont Stakes. Fifteen years after A.P. Indy rebounded from missing the Kentucky Derby to capture New York's biggest horse race, his daughter came up with her unique moment at Big Sandy in what turned into an instant classic renewal of the Belmont. Fittingly, she did it thirty-four years to the day Secretariat dominated the Belmont to become the ninth Triple Crown champion.
Three months after that historic day, Rags to Riches was back at Belmont Park in the Grade II Gazelle Stakes. With Velasquez back aboard, the filly took up her customary tracking position and led briefly in the stretch, but her undefeated streak came to a halt as Lear's Princess overtook her to get the win.
Rags to Riches was retired in 2008, not racing again after the Gazelle due to an injured pastern. But she was victorious again thanks to being voted Champion Three-Year-old Filly at the Eclipse Awards after winning five races in her sophomore year, including the Belmont. Her season made news around the world, too, for she was also named World Champion Three-Year-Old Filly by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorites (IFHA).
Since being retired from the races, Rags to Riches has gone on to be a dam. Her best horse has been the Irish-bred Rhett Butler, a son of noted sire Galileo who won some Grade I events in Serbia.
For several years, Churchill Downs has hosted the Rags to Riches Stakes, and Belmont Park held the Rags to Riches Invitational Stakes during the 2016 spring/summer meet. Of course, both tracks are perfect places to pay tribute to a chestnut filly who earned her way into racing history.
She was imbued with the consistency and penchant for winning races that her father was known for, along with some of her ancestors. Like all of them, she handled different distances, and she made her mark as a champion as they did in their respective eras.
Rags to Riches will always be linked to the Belmont, but during the winter and spring of 2007, she became part of the timeline of Southern California racing.