01/11/2008 12:00AM

Rags to Riches trains toward spring return

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Rags to Riches spent most of her 3-year-old campaign in the limelight. But when the Belmont Stakes winner returned to training following a four-month absence earlier this week, she did so quietly in the relative anonymity of Todd Pletcher's semi-private winter headquarters at Palm Beach Downs.

Rags to Riches won 5 of 6 starts at 3, including her game Belmont victory over likely Horse of the Year Curlin and Grade 1 wins in the Kentucky Oaks and Santa Anita Oaks. The only blemish on her record came in her 2007 finale, when she returned from a three-month layoff and finished second behind Lear's Princess in the Gazelle.

Rags to Riches came out of the Gazelle with a hairline fracture to her right front pastern. She was sent to Ashford Farm in Kentucky, where she remained until shipping into Palm Beach Downs earlier this week.

"Originally we were going to send her to California but changed plans because of the circumstances out there," said Pletcher, referring to the drainage problems with Santa Anita's Cushion Track. "She wintered well and looks great. She returned to light jogging on the farm in December and began jogging here on Wednesday. We'll proceed slowly with her and I'll doubt she'll run before the first of May. At the moment we're going to focus on a summer and fall campaign with the obvious objective being the Breeders' Cup Distaff."

Rags to Riches just adds to Pletcher's wealth of riches stabled this winter at Palm Beach Downs. In addition to Rags to Riches, the likely 3-year-old filly champ, Pletcher also has handicap stars A.P. Arrow, Fairbanks, and Magna Graduate, all of whom have been idle since finishing first, fifth, and sixth in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November.

Pletcher said he's pointing A.P. Arrow and Fairbanks to the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Feb. 2 and Magna Graduate to the Mineshaft at the Fair Grounds Feb. 9.

Pletcher also strengthened his local 3-year-old contingent by bringing Monba back from the West Coast following his promising fourth-place finish in Hollywood Park's Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. Monba is likely to make his 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 24.

One of Pletcher's top 3-year-olds who will not return until later in the year is Ready's Image, who underwent knee surgery following his eighth-place finish in the Champagne.

"He just returned to training on the farm in Ocala," Pletcher said of Ready's Image.

Despite running only two horses during the first four days of the meet, Pletcher vaulted to the top of the trainer standings after winning the finales on Thursday and Friday. The wins gave Pletcher five for the meet and 1,996 for his career.

Backseat Rhythm works for return

Backseat Rhythm, a late-running third behind the undefeated Indian Blessing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, worked five furlongs in 1:01 under jockey Javier Castellano here Friday.

"Javier dropped by the the barn just as this filly was walking around the shed under tack getting ready to go out, so he jumped on and breezed her for me," said trainer Pat Reynolds. "This was just her second work since I freshened her after the Breeders' Cup."

Backseat Rhythm rallied from last after bobbling leaving the gate to finish a half-length behind Proud Spell for second in the Juvenile Fillies. She also had chased home Indian Blessing when second three weeks earlier in the Grade 1 Frizette.

"Her race in the Breeders' Cup was probably better than most people give her credit for since she was left with so much to do over that muddy track after stumbling leaving the gate," said Reynolds who has 14 horses stabled on the grounds.

Reynolds said he will likely look for a first-level allowance race, either on turf or dirt, for Backseat Rhythm's 3-year-old debut.

"I'd like to make life easy for her in her first start back," said Reynolds. "Right now our first major goal is the Ashland at Keeneland."

Three wins put Coa atop rider standings

Eibar Coa took the lead in the jockey standings after posting three victories on Friday's card. Coa, who decided to forgo another winter in New York to ride regularly at Gulfstream this season, won the first race with Sargeant Silver, the fourth with Ostin's Miracle, and completed his hat trick astride Can't Bluff Mulvey in the sixth. The three wins gave Coa 10 wins for the meet, two more than John Velazquez.

* Jockey Eddie Castro had a riding double on Friday that included a victory by the promising 3-year-old Adriano, who dominated entry-level allowance rivals going 1o1/16 miles on the turf. Adriano, a son of A.P. Indy, is trained by Graham Motion.