06/22/2007 12:00AM

Plenty for Rags to Riches in Europe


NEW YORK - The victory of Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes is cause for celebration for anyone who likes a good story as well as for those few of us in this country who still believe that stamina is at least as important as speed on the Thoroughbred resume.

By Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy out of a mare who won the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle Stakes at 2, Rags to Riches is a half-sister to 2006 Belmont winner Jazil. Rarely do we see a horse with such stamina-laden bloodlines in America. Owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, a pair of Englishmen who know a thing or two about breeding, are to be commended for keeping her in this country when they could have sent her to Europe where there are so many more opportunities to win races beyond 1 1/4 miles.

Which raises the question: Where does Rags to Riches go from here? A drop back to 10 furlongs for the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama Stakes is well within her grasp, as she would once again be facing fillies, and 3-year-olds at that, but it would prove little. Afterward, there is hardly a single distaff dirt race for her to run in beyond 1o1/8 miles, a distance that may well be too short for her stamina-laden pedigree, either this fall or next year.

Even if she challenges males again, Rags to Riches will never have the opportunity to run at what is probably her best distance - 1 1/2 miles - unless she is switched to turf.

Her half-brother Jazil illustrates the problems Rags to Riches will be facing. He has been unable to win since his Belmont heroics of a year ago as distances up to 10 furlongs are just too short for him, while he failed in his lone try on turf when trailing in last in the 1 1/2-mile Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland.

All of which may lead one to the sad conclusion that we will never see Rags to Riches or Jazil at their best again. Such would never be the case in Europe, where eight days before Rags to Riches outdueled Curlin in the Belmont, Light Shift won the 1o1/2-mile English Oaks.

Future opportunities abound for this Kingmambo-Shirley Heights cross, as in Europe the stakes schedule is designed to fulfill the potential of all Thoroughbreds, not just those who excel between six and 10 furlongs. Light Shift has the Irish Oaks, the Yorkshire Oaks, and the Prix Vermeille from which to choose this summer, all of them Group 1 races at 1 1/2 miles against her own sex. If only we had a similar program here for Rags to Riches.

Even in Japan, the need to provide winners of their Derby and Oaks, both of which are run at 1 1/2 miles, with races to prove their potential is taken into account. Vodka, the exciting filly who slammed colts by three lengths in the Japanese Derby on May 27, is trying the boys and their older brothers in the 1 3/8-mile Takarazuka Kinen on Sunday. If older-horse company proves too strong for Vodka, she has the option of facing her own sex once again in the 1 3/8-mile Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup on Nov. 11.

If Rags to Riches is successful in the CCA Oaks, her English owners should give in to the temptation and bring her to Europe where she can once again test the 12-furlong waters, albeit on turf. The Yorkshire Oaks against fillies and mares at York on Aug. 22 would be a good starting point. Not the toughest Group 1 race in Europe, it would tell us if she could handle turf. If she failed, Todd Pletcher would still have nearly six weeks to get her ready for a Breeders' Cup Distaff prep in the Beldame Stakes on Sept. 30.

Even better, she might travel to Paris for the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp on Sept. 16. If successful, that experiment could lead to an Arc challenge and a future career on turf, a surface on which there are plenty of opportunities beyond 11 furlongs on both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific.

It would be a pity if Rags to Riches was to be constrained to nine-furlong races after the Saratoga meeting. Having virtually clinched the 3-year-old filly championship in America, she should be given the opportunity to display her considerable talents on the larger international stage.