09/16/2007 12:00AM

Lear's Princess beats Rags to Riches

Deborah Kral/Horsephotos
Lear's Princess, with Eibar Coa up, outruns Rags to Riches to win the Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle States at Belmont Park on Saturday.
ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was right. Saturday was the right time to take on Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches.

Though Rags to Riches ran a very good race in her first start in three months, Lear's Princess, trained by McLaughlin, ran just a touch better, running past Rags to Riches in deep stretch to record a half-length victory in the Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle Stakes before 7,361 at Belmont. It was two lengths back to Tough Tiz's Sis in third.

The victory by Lear's Princess was her first in a Grade 1 stakes after she ran second in both the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama. The loss was the first for Rags to Riches in six starts this year and only her second career defeat.

Rags to Riches, who became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont, had a topsy-turvy three months since her Belmont score. She had a temperature and an aborted workout in late July, the latter prompting her connections to send her to the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania for a complete physical. She also missed some training time due to a temperature in August.

Still, Rags to Riches was in excellent position to win the Gazelle under John Velazquez, taking the lead in upper stretch after stalking Dorm Fever and Tough Tiz's Sis through fractions of 24.07 seconds, 47.08, and 1:11.20. Lear's Princess, under Eibar Coa, saved ground down the backside, swung four wide approaching the top of the stretch, and was able to wear Rags to Riches down inside the 70-yard marker. Lear's Princess, equipped with blinkers for the first time and carrying seven pounds less than Rags to Riches, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.86 and returned $6.20 to win.

"She deserved a Grade 1," said McLaughlin, who trains Lear's Princess for the West Point Thoroughbreds. "I hate that we beat Rags to Riches in a way, but it's great because it gives that much more credit to our filly."

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Rags to Riches, was naturally disappointed, but not discouraged with the outcome.

"The filly got beat a [half-length] giving the horse seven pounds and she hasn't run in three months," Pletcher said. "I'd never be discouraged with the filly. I still think she's the best 3-year-old filly in the country. I think she's one of the best we've seen in a long time. Some times the best get beat. I wouldn't switch places with anyone. I look forward to six weeks form now making amends in the Breeders' Cup."

Rags to Riches and Lear's Princess will train up to the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.