05/03/2007 11:00PM

Rags to Riches short price in Oaks


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A lot of great trainers have tried to win the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby in the same year since Ben Jones last did it in 1952. A great opportunity eluded LeRoy Jolley in 1976 when Honest Pleasure failed at 2-5 in the Derby after Optimistic Gal won the Oaks, and surely on several occasions D. Wayne Lukas woke up on the first Friday in May thinking he was bound for a historic sweep, only to somehow miss.

Unlike Jones, Jolley, or his former boss, Lukas, Todd Pletcher is not yet enshrined in the Racing Hall of Fame, although he already looks like a lock even before hitting age 40. No one is saying Pletcher will be the one to pull off the next Oaks-Derby double, but he seems the most logical candidate to be in position to do so when the sun sets Friday on the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.

With three of the 14 starters in the 133rd running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaks, and five runners in the Derby on Saturday, Pletcher has the numbers, if nothing else, to engineer a rare feat. But besides quantity, Pletcher also brings forth quality, and an A.P. Indy filly named Rags to Riches, the solid Oaks favorite, embodies that notion.

Rags to Riches, owned by Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor and to be ridden by Garrett Gomez, will break from post 11 in the 1 1/8-mile Oaks, while her Pletcher-trained stablemates, Octave and Cotton Blossom, will break alongside each other in posts 4 and 5. Pletcher said he has been extremely pleased with how each has trained in recent weeks.

"We were happy with all three," he said. "I didn't mind being a little bit on the outside with Rags to Riches, because that's kind of the way she's been having to run."

Rags to Riches comes off wins in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes and Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks.

Pletcher won the 2004 Oaks with Ashado, who pulled away late as a 2-1 favorite.

"I don't know if I've ever come up to a big race as confident as we were with Ashado, but all three of these fillies are doing extremely well," he said. "Certainly Rags to Riches's races leading up to this have been impressive."

Rags to Riches closed as the 3-2 favorite among 23 separate betting interests in the third and final pool of the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager last month, and without a hiccup going into this race, it seems highly likely her post-time odds Friday will be lower than the 5-2 that Churchill has on its morning-line.

The other Pletcher fillies also should draw considerable play. Octave, with John Velazquez to ride, is listed at 6-1, while Cotton Blossom, with Edgar Prado, is 8-1.

The 5-1 second choice is a filly whose last race at Churchill was a memorable one. She is Dreaming of Anna, whose wire-to-wire triumph in the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies clinched a divisional Eclipse Award.

"This girl is training some kind of good right now," said her trainer, Wayne Catalano.

Another major contender is High Heels, whose runaway victory over Cotton Blossom and five other fillies last month in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park confirmed trainer Gary Hartlage's long-held confidence in her.

"She's that kind of horse," he said.

Fringe contenders in the Oaks include several horses from renowned stables: Tough Tiz's Sis, trained by Bob Baffert; Autobahn Girl, trained by Nick Zito; and High Again, trained by Bill Mott.

The rest of the field is Dawn After Dawn, Cash Included, Grace Happens, Swift Temper, Sealy Hill, and Mistical Plan.

The Oaks is the first leg of the Oaks-Derby Double, a two-day wager first offered by Churchill in 1996.

Attendance for the last two Oaks have been the largest in race history, with 111,243 showing up two years ago, and 108,065 turning out last year. The Friday weather forecast of temperatures in the mid-70s portends another huge crowd.

The Oaks will be telecast live on a one-hour ESPN2 show that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern. Post time is 5:45.