06/09/2007 12:00AM

Rags to Riches beats Curlin and the boys

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Rags to Riches (outside) puts her head in front of Curlin in the 139th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Start spreading the news. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won his first Triple Crown race, on a day when it was ladies first at Belmont Park.

Rags to Riches, the lone filly in the 139th Belmont Stakes, overcame a significant stumble at the start and beat six boys, including Preakness Stakes winner Curlin, to end two inglorious streaks, one for fillies in the Belmont, and one for Pletcher in Triple Crown races, on Saturday at Belmont Park.

Rags to Riches ($10.40) became only the third filly to win the Belmont of 22 who have attempted it, but she was the first since 1905. Pletcher had sent out 28 losers in Triple Crown races, all males, before the filly brought him glory.

"It's a special feeling no matter when you do it," said Pletcher, who only decided on Tuesday to put Rags to Riches in the Belmont. "To do it with a filly, which hasn't been done in 102 years, it's a real credit to how good the filly is,"

Rags to Riches, carrying 121 pounds - five fewer than the males - outfought Curlin through a thrilling stretch drive to win by a head. Tiago was another 5 1/2 lengths back in third. Hard Spun was fourth and was followed, in order, by C P West, Imawildandcrazyguy, and Slew's Tizzy.

She covered 1 1/2 miles on the fast main track in 2:28.74.

Rags to Riches was the second choice in the betting, but she seemed to be first in the hearts of the fans who came to Belmont Park on Saturday. She received the loudest cheer of the seven runners when they were introduced during the post parade by announcer Tom Durkin, and she received an even louder cheer when she came back to the winner's circle.

John Velazquez, who rode the winner and, like Pletcher, was scoring his first victory in a Triple Crown race, seized the moment by taking Rags to Riches up the stretch to let her take in more cheers before she posed for pictures. Velazquez got the mount because Garrett Gomez, who had ridden Rags to Riches in her last four races, committed to ride Hard Spun before Rags to Riches was put in the race.

Rags to Riches unquestionably had the best pedigree for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. She is by A.P. Indy, the 1992 Belmont winner, and her dam, the Deputy Minister mare Better Than Honour, produced last year's Belmont winner, Jazil.

But Rags to Riches was racing against males for the first time. She already had established herself as the best 3-year-old filly in the land, having captured the Kentucky Oaks. She has now won five straight races after losing her lone start last year.

Rags to Riches earned $600,000 from a gross purse of $1 million. She is owned by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, who bought her as a yearling for $1.9 million.

Rags to Riches started from the outside post in the field of seven, but she compromised her chances by stumbling at the start, her nose nearly touching the ground. The pace was dawdling, though, which allowed her to get into range while not expending serious energy.

As the field raced around the first turn, C P West was the surprising leader, with Slew's Tizzy alongside him. Curlin tucked in third along the rail, while Hard Spun was taken off the rail by Gomez and began to pull aggressively, as he did with Mario Pino in the Preakness.

C P West led through fractions of 24.74 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 50.14 for a half-mile, and 1:15.32 for six furlongs.

As the field moved around the far turn, Curlin knifed between horses to challenge for the lead, Hard Spun ranged up three wide, and Rags to Riches rallied four lanes wide.

Curlin led narrowly turning into the stretch, but Rags to Riches was on even terms passing the eighth pole, was just in front with a sixteenth to go, and then outbattled Curlin in the shadow of the wire.

Rags to Riches became the fourth horse in the last five years to win the Belmont off a five-week layoff.

Curlin, the favorite, had won the Preakness Stakes after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. He and Hard Spun, who was second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, were the only horses in this year's Triple Crown who ran in all three races.

The field of seven was the smallest in the Belmont since six went to the post in 2003.

It was a balmy but not oppressive day on Saturday at Belmont Park, the heat of Friday having broken overnight.

This year's Triple Crown began with a late-running victory by Street Sense in the Derby, but when Street Sense was narrowly defeated by Curlin in the Preakness two weeks later, he subsequently was kept out of the Belmont. That was one of the factors that led Pletcher to run Rags to Riches.

The two fillies to win the Belmont Stakes prior to Rags to Riches were Ruthless in the inaugural running in 1867 and Tanya in 1905.

- additional reporting

by David Grening