09/17/2007 11:00PM

Rags to Riches will be back, trainer says

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Rags to Riches (right) battles Lear's Princess (left) coming down the stretch in the Gazelle Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday. Rags to Riches finished second to Lear's Princess and later was diagnosed with a hairline fracture to her right front pastern.
ELMONT, N.Y. - At approximately 10:45 Monday morning, Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches left trainer Todd Pletcher's Belmont Park barn and boarded a van bound for part-owner John Magnier's Ashford Stud near Versailles, Ky.

While many may believe that will be the last time Rags to Riches is seen at a racetrack, Pletcher is confident the opposite is true. Pletcher maintains that the hairline fracture Rags to Riches suffered to her right front pastern - the bone just below the ankle - during her half-length loss to Lear's Princess in Saturday's Gazelle Stakes is a season-ending injury, not a career-ending one.

Pletcher said he has had horses come back from such an injury in a hind pastern to compete at the Grade 1 level, specifically his top turf horse, English Channel. Personal Ensign, the undefeated champion mare owned by the Phipps family in the 1980s, was away from the races for almost a year after fracturing a hind pastern in the fall of her 2-year-old season. All she did was win the final 11 races of her career, seven of which were Grade 1 stakes.

"I would say this is something she can come back 110 percent from," Pletcher said Monday morning. "I don't know what Personal Ensign's fracture was like, but I'm sure this one is less significant than that one."

Pletcher said that if Rags to Riches were a colt, "she probably would be retired. She is a filly. As of now, she is going to run in 2008 assuming that everything heals properly and she comes back and trains satisfactory."

Rags to Riches, the first filly to win the Belmont in 102 years, will get six weeks of stall rest at Ashford Stud. Around Nov. 1, the injury will be

X-rayed again and a determination will be made if she can resume training. If she is able to resume training, Rags to Riches would likely be sent to Southern California, where she wintered last year, winning a maiden race, the Las Virgenes, and the Santa Anita Oaks.

Pletcher believes Rags to Riches suffered her injury in the stretch of the Gazelle, but speculated that the origin may date back to her historic Belmont Stakes victory when she stumbled leaving the starting gate.

"How can you ever know?" Pletcher said. "Sometimes you have horses that have some sort of an injury and it never manifests or surfaces until they get into a race situation. No matter what you do training or how much galloping or breezing they do, there's a difference between running as fast as you can and not. But anytime you have a horse take a step like she did out of the gate in the Belmont, you always worry that somewhere down the road it can catch up with you."

Rags to Riches certainly had her issues following the Belmont. She incurred a temperature and was pulled up at the start of a workout in July. She underwent a complete physical exam at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., that showed no physical problems.

Rags to Riches resumed training July 30 and had a solid month of training before suffering another temperature on Aug. 27. After a few days off, she put in two more works before running in the Gazelle.

In the Gazelle, Rags to Riches struck the front in upper stretch, but when she switched leads, she threw her head up and lugged in a touch, setting off a red flag to Pletcher.

"Some horses have certain habits, maybe they lug in or lug out and they do it throughout their life . . . she's never done that to me," Pletcher said. "That's probably when she started feeling it."

Pletcher said Rags to Riches cooled out fine Saturday night, but was noticeably off Sunday morning. She jogged in the shed row then on the road outside the barn. Subsequent

X-rays revealed the injury.

Pletcher said he tried to make excuses for Rags to Riches's loss on Saturday, saying she was conceding seven pounds to the winner, was a bit wide, and may have been in need of the race for her first start in 14 weeks.

"You start thinking of excuses, but at the end of the day if she's healthy she's going to run better than that," he said.

As it turned out, Rags to Riches wasn't healthy. Pletcher, and Rags to Riches's legion of fans, hope it's only a temporary setback.