09/15/2007 8:59PM

Riches to Rags

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You wonder after the day they had at Belmont Saturday whether Michael Tabor and Todd Pletcher would agree with John Nerud's famous pronouncement that "a bad day at the racetrack is better than a goddamn good day anywhere else."

Tabor is the principal owner and Pletcher the trainer of The Green Monkey, The Leopard and Rags to Riches, all of whom were beaten on Gazelle Day. First came the $16 million The Green Monkey, the most expensive horse ever sold at auction, running a distant third despite a perfect trip and setup as the 2-5 favorite in his belated debut. Then, The Leopard was a bad fifth as the 5-2 second choice in a six-horse Futurity Stakes. Finally, Rags to Riches, probably the most famous American horse in training, lost her comeback race at 2-5 against Lear's Princess in the Gazelle.

Of the three, Rags to Riches ran by far the best race and lost little in defeat except her aura of invincibility and five-race winning streak. She hadn't been out in 14 weeks, was carrying seven pounds more than the winner under the punitive allowance conditions of the Gazelle, possibly moved too soon, and still was beaten just half a length. Other than costing me a pick-six that paid $13k and would have paid closer to $3k had she won, it wasn't a discouraging performance. [Update: At 1 p.m. Sunday, the NYRA announced that Rags to Riches will not race again this year due to a hairline fracture in her right front pastern.]

Be very careful analyzing the fractions and times of Saturday's Belmont races: There was a very strong wind against the horses down the backstretch all day. This makes little difference in the final times of the six-furlong races, since horses are racing with and against the wind for exactly half the race, but in the seven-furlong Futurity and Matron and the nine-furlong (one-turn) Gazelle, they spent a majority of the race into the wind. So fractions were slow all day, and it's almost impossible to reconcile the times of the three extended dirt stakes with the six-furlong events on the card. So the stakes figures will all have more than a little artistry to them, and it may pay to give a little more credit to Saturday's pace-pressers and a little less to the last-move winners who benefitted.

*Race 1: La Presse, a fast-closing fourth in her American debut at Saratoga, figured to be a narrow favorite in this allowance turf-sprint but was pounded to 4-5, the first of two Godolphin runners on the card who were inexplicably bet way below their true odds. (Perhaps the royal family was celebrating having lost the bidding duel for The Green Monkey 19 months ago.) Second and third choices Genuine Devotion and Jibboom ran 1-2 with La Presse a distant third, and the difference between the exacta and trifecta payouts illustrated how La Presse was hammered only in the win pool. The excta of $40.20 was nearly tripled into a trifecta of $112.50 with a 4-5 shot running third -- so La Presse was 4-5 to win the race but nearly 2-1 to win the race for third that did not include the first two finishers.

*Race 2: Devereux, a middle-moving third to Paint in his Saratoga debut Aug. 15, took command from favored Hedgefund Investor and drew off by three lengths in 1:09.50. It was a good-looking effort by the Padua homebred 2-year-old by Forestry and the unusually slow fractions (23.00, 45.99) into the fast final time showed both the strength of the backstretch wind and the glibness of the racing surface.

*Race 3: Americanus, second in the G2 Amsterdam just six weeks ago, was in for a $75k tag today and was an easy 2 1/2-length winner in 1:09.58 off a half in 46.07. No takers at the claim box.

*Race 4: There were more people in the paddock for this 3-and-up maiden special than there are for most Grade 1 stakes at Belmont. Everyone wanted to see what a $16 million maiden looks like. The answer: Like any other horse. A Hall of Fame trainer watching the post parade remarked that he didn't see a single thing that would make you pick him out of a field full of racehorses as anything special. Still, he opened at 2-5 and that's what he was when the gates opened. He broke cleanly and took up a perfect spot in third on the outside as Sixthirteen was pressed hard by Bujagali in 22.18 and 44.90, blazing fractions compared to the earlier races and considering the wind. It should have been a perfect set-up if The Green Money were worth even three cents on the dollar, but he struggled to hold third while falling farther and farther back as Roi Maudit swept to the lead and Sixthirteen held second. The Green Monkey was beaten seven lengths, earning a Beyer of 76. "He's going to be a maiden a very long time," said the Hall of Famer. "Actually, I doubt we'll see him race again."

*Race 5: My pick six got off to a rocky start that ultimately proved fatal when third choice I've Got Speed ($11.80) won this turf sprint in a four-length romp over logical favorite Metro Meteor in a race that completely collapsed: The first three finishers were running 8-9-10 in a field of 10 after the opening quarter. I've Got Speed was coming off a low-figure turf-sprint victory against seemingly cheaper and lesser horses at Delaware, but there may not be many lesser turf sprinters than the Lotto-like fields assembled once or twice a day for these baffling events in New York. The winner killed the 20 percent of my play that had backed up Rags to Riches with Lear's Princess.

*Race 6: The public really nailed this G2 Matron, dismissing 2-1 morning-line favorite Syriana's Song at 3-1 (she was 9-2 for most of the betting) and settling instead on ML 4-1 Proud Spell at 17-10. Syriana's Song, who figured to fight for the lead, never got a call, dropping back early and showing nothing thereafter. Winning trainer Larry Jones made good use of an uncoupled entry, using longshot Maren's Meadow to hound Miss Red Delicious into defeat through strong fractions of 22.44 and 45.80. Armonk, the Mizzen Mast maiden making just her second start, moved first and looked like she was going to romp but then got leg-weary late and Proud Spell ($5.40) stormed past her to win by four lengths. The winner's time of 1:24.20 was nearly two full seconds slower than the Futurity an hour later, and even if you give it some help for the wind, is going to come up a pretty mediocre performance.

*Race 7: In the Duda Stakes at Belmont July 7, Dance Away Capote was 18-1 when she beat 3-1 Fantastic Shirl by a length and a half. The bettors apparently ignored that bit of history, letting her off at 9-1 today in the G3 Noble Damsel, where she beat 9-2 Fantastic Shirl again. The key was to draw a line through Dance Away Capote's last start, where she took on the likes of Wait a While and My Typhoon in the Balston Spa and was very wide in a race where she may have simply been overmatched -- though the way she ran today suggests she's ready for better. This time she had a clean trip until swinging wide on the turn and was moving so quickly she almost seemed to ricochet past the field, drawing away to win by 4 1/2 lengths with a mile in 1:34.82. Fantastic Shirl was up for second with Pommes Frites third. Astronomia, a Godolphin runner from New Zealand who won a weak N2x turf sprint last time out, should have been double-digit odds but was somehow the second choice in the betting at 7-2.

Race 8: Tale of Ekati lost any chance of beating Ready's Image in the Sanford when he was off slowly from the rail, and he appeared to lose any chance of winning the G2 Futurity here when he hit the gate and stumbled out a length or two behind his five rivals. But he quickly moved into third at the rail as The Leopard pressed Mythical Pegasus in 22.90 and 46.46, waited at the inside as 4-5 Kodiak Cowboy gained on the leaders from the outside, then dove through an opening at the rail and scored by a length over the favorite in 1:22.33. Tale of Ekati ($8.40), a Tale of the Cat colt from a Japanese-bred Sunday Silence mare, gave trainer Barclay Tagg back-to-back stakes victories on the card.

Race 9: Rags to Riches, sent off at the identical 0.45-1 odds as The Green Monkey, was closer to the lead than usual but in perfect striking position early, third on the outside and 1 1/2 lengths behind Dorm Fever and Tough Tiz's Sis as they duieled in 24.07 and 47.08 into the wind. She moved within half a length after six furlongs in 1:11.20 and pulled clear briefly in upper stretch, but Lear's Princess had come off the rail and was bearing down on Rags with a furlong to go after a mile in 1:35.46. Rags to Riches reponded and tried to come back, but Lear's Princess ($6.20) had the momentum and the stronger kick, winning by half a length in 1:47.86.

It was a well-deserved victory for Lear's Princess, a very nice filly in her own right who lost close ones running second to Octave in the CCA Oaks and to Lady Joanne in the Alabama. The 3-year-old Lear Fan filly is now a triple-surface winner, having won her debut on Polytrack, her next two starts on turf, and now a G1 on dirt.

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As for Rags to Riches, at least now nobody will be foolishly clamoring for her to take on the boys in the BC Classic. She'll still be favored for the BC Distaff, [see Update above] as she should be considering the 14-week absence and the seven-pound swing today, but not at anything like today's price. Is she the same filly she was when she won the Belmont? She wasn't today but she might be in six weeks. And the final time today won't help answer that question. The Gazelle was the only dirt race on the card beyond seven furlongs and has to be treated uniquely because of the long run into the wind. The Gazelle has been given a provisional Beyer Speed Figure of 99, which matches Lear's Princess's Alabama and is a 6-to-9 point dropoff for Rags to Riches from her Kentucky Oaks and Belmont Stakes winning Beyers.

At least Belmont didn't run out of Rags to Riches buttons: There were enough on hand for the first 12,000 customers, but the announced attendance was only 7,361.