09/04/2007 11:00PM

Rags to Riches will await Gazelle

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ELMONT, N.Y. - As expected, Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches will skip this Saturday's Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap at Belmont Park and instead will be pointed to the Grade 1 Gazelle Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 15, trainer Todd Pletcher said Wednesday.

Pletcher cited the fact that Rags to Riches missed a scheduled workout on Aug. 27 due to a temperature as his reason for skipping the Ruffian. The $250,000 Gazelle, restricted to 3-year-old fillies and run at 1 1/8 miles around one turn, will be Rags to Riches's first start since June 9 when she became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont. The Gazelle will also be her final prep for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.

"She missed one work," Pletcher said. "This provides us the opportunity to make up the work without compromising on the other end. The six weeks to the Breeders' Cup is actually ideal."

Rags to Riches missed three days of training due to her temperature. She returned to the work tab last Sunday at Saratoga, working five furlongs in 1:02.63 in company with the 2-year-old maiden winner The Leopard. Rags to Riches shipped to Belmont on Tuesday and trained over Belmont's main track on Wednesday.

It will be interesting to see how many horses run in the Gazelle. Nominations closed for that race last Saturday, but have not yet been released by the racing office. Lear's Princess, runner-up in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama, is being considered for the Gazelle, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said, but is also under consideration for the Fitz Dixon Cotillion a week later at Philadelphia Park.

Despite the absence of Rags to Riches, Saturday's Ruffian does not figure to come up with many horses. Only Take D' Tour and Ginger Punch were confirmed as of Wednesday. Possible runners include Miss Shop, Teammate, Rahys' Appeal, and Desert Flight.

Doctor Dino in search of firm ground

Trainer Richard Gibson has sent Doctor Dino all around the globe seeking firm turf. He hopes he has found it at Belmont, where Doctor Dino runs in Saturday's Grade 1 $500,000 Man o' War Stakes.

Doctor Dino, a 5-year-old French-bred son of Muhtathir, is based in France. In May, Gibson shipped Doctor Dino to Singapore, where he caught yielding ground and finished third in the Group 1 Singapore Airlines International. Last month, Gibson shipped Doctor Dino to Arlington Park, where he caught good ground - and a slow pace - and finished third, three-quarters of a length behind Jambalaya in the Arlington Million.

"I'm very pleased to have traveled halfway across the world and thought the horse ran to a very high standard of racing," Gibson said Wednesday from France. "Let's be frank, nobody remembers the bronze medalist. He's very consistent, and under ideal situations he can improve on it."

Doctor Dino, a Group 3 winner in France last year, has been in New York for two weeks and has breezed twice over Belmont's inner turf course, including a three-furlong move in 39.07 seconds on Sunday.

"I was there for his work [on Sunday] and I thought he has recovered well from the Arlington race, and every indication I've been given is that we'll get a faster surface than we got in Arlington," Gibson said. "Fast surface, fast pace will suit the colt."

There is no rain forecast in the New York area until Sunday.

"I went to one side of the world and caught soft ground and then to the other side of the world and caught soft ground," Gibson said. "If it rains in New York I might have to start using some English swear words."

A field of seven is expected for the Man o' War, scheduled for 1 3/8 miles. Joining Doctor Dino are Grand Couturier, Marsh Side, Shamdinan, Sunriver, Trippi's Storm, and Yellowstone.

Stage Gift, the Godolphin-owned winner of the Group 2 York Stakes last out in Britain, was expected to come but did not ship because he was noticeably off on the day he was to travel.

Valbenny comes east for Garden City

The California-based 3-year-old filly Valbenny has twice been beaten in Grade 1 races on her home turf by East Coast-based horses. On Saturday, Valbenny will come East seeking revenge.

Trainer Patrick Gallagher has shipped Valbenny in for Saturday's Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup, where she will meet Rutherienne, who defeated her by two lengths in the Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 18. Prior to that, Valbenny was beaten three-quarters of a length by Panty Raid in the American Oaks at Hollywood.

"We thought the filly seemed to come out of the race in good shape and we thought we'd take a shot in that race in New York," Gallagher said Wednesday from California. "Three weeks is a little bit close, but she bounced back good after that race."

In addition to Rutherienne and Valbenny, others expected to run in the Garden City are Alexander Tango, Bit of Whimsy, Chestoria, Missvinski, New Edition, and possibly Sharp Susan.

Baffert to maintain Eastern presence

After a solid Saratoga meet in which he won six races, including two graded stakes, trainer Bob Baffert will maintain an East Coast presence through at least the middle of October.

Baffert has 15 stalls at Belmont Park for the meet and will mix and match his horses as he sees fit. Midnight Lute, who won the Grade 1 Forego, is at Belmont while Baffert mulls what to do with the gargantuan colt. He earned a 124 Beyer Speed Figure for his Forego victory.

Baffert said he wasn't sure if Midnight Lute would be pointed to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at six furlongs, the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at a mile and 70 yards, or something else.

Baffert did say that coming to Saratoga helped save what he thought was going to be a lost summer over Del Mar's Polytrack, where he feared many of his speedy juveniles would flounder.

"When I was at Del Mar I knew I had some nice horses," he said. "Things were just not panning out. We got here . . . I feel a lot better about our situation. Hopefully we can pick up some clients on the East Coast and build up the barn again. It seems like the [owners] that want to play on the top end are out here now."

While Baffert wouldn't commit to being stabled on the East Coast year-round he did say that he would probably follow the routine of Bobby Frankel, wintering in Southern California, then coming east after the Santa Anita meet ends in April

"I think wintering in California is still a good place to be," he said.

Bejarano ready to ride

Rafael Bejarano was hospitalized briefly on Monday after being involved in a mishap at the gate on closing day of Saratoga, but he was not injured and will ride on opening day at Belmont. Bejarano is named on five mounts.

Bejarano was aboard Marital Asset when that horse reared up and broke through the starting gate just prior to the start of Monday's fourth race. Bejarano got pinned between the horse and the gate, and when he landed was complaining of chest and rib pain.

He was taken off the track on a stretcher and transported by ambulance to Albany Medical Center, where X-rays and an MRI showed nothing.

Bejarano will also be at Belmont on Saturday, when he is scheduled to ride Ginger Punch in the Grade 1 Ruffian.

* Jockey Mike Luzzi, who went 3 for 93 at Saratoga, has changed agents. Luzzi, the second-leading rider in wins on this circuit last year, has hired to Chuck Del Preto to replace Steve Young.