08/06/2007 12:00AM

Rags to Riches will likely skip the Alabama


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Though Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches returned to the worktab Sunday morning, trainer Todd Pletcher gave strong indications that she would not run in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama here on Aug. 18.

He didn't completely rule out the Alabama, but Pletcher is strongly considering giving Rags to Riches just one more race before the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.

"Probably,'' Pletcher said. "It makes the most sense.''

That one race would most likely be the Grade 1, $300,000 Ruffian against older fillies and mares at Belmont on Sept. 8 or the Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle against 3-year-old fillies at Belmont on Sept. 15.

"What I'm looking at is what sets her up best for the Breeders' Cup,'' Pletcher said. "If she runs in the Alabama, it's probably too far out; she's going to need to run again. If I waited for something like the Ruffian or the Gazelle, it would be nice spacing from that to the Breeders' Cup so we're in good position option-wise.''

On Sunday, Rags to Riches, the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years, worked four furlongs in 49.86 seconds over Saratoga's main track. Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. was aboard for the move, the first breeze for Rags to Riches since July 8.

Cordero - aboard the filly for the first time - took a slight hold of Rags to Riches before breaking off at the half-mile pole. Clockers timed the first quarter in 24.92 seconds and her last quarter in 24.94.

"I thought she went very well,'' Pletcher said. "Obviously, we weren't looking to do anything overly exciting - just let her stretch her legs a little bit. I thought she handled the track well, did everything the way I would have expected her to.''

Pletcher said that Rags to Riches would work again on Sunday after which he would make a final determination on the Alabama. Prior to Sunday's work, Rags to Riches had an eventful three weeks. On July 16 she was declared out of the Coaching Club American Oaks due to a slightly elevated temperature. On July 22, a scheduled five-furlong work was aborted when exercise rider Lauren Robson pulled the filly up less than a furlong into the move.

Two days later, Rags to Riches was shipped to the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania for a thorough physical, which did not reveal any problems.

"She's already had every test in the world,'' Pletcher said. "Usually, when you start looking you find something. I was pretty confident there's nothing wrong with her.''

Another hint that Rags to Riches would likely pass the Alabama is that Pletcher said Octave, the winner of the Mother Goose and Coaching Club, would run in the Alabama "no matter what.'' Previously, Pletcher has said that he would like to keep Octave and Rags to Riches separated.

Octave breezed five furlongs in 1:03.53 Sunday over the main track.

Gate crew shows growing pains

The epidemic of gate mishaps continued Monday, and more refunds were deemed necessary by the stewards.

The stewards declared Phone Home, the even-money favorite, a non-starter in Monday's fifth race because was not given a fair chance to start the race. Jockey John Velazquez was attempting to put his right foot in the stirrup when the gate opened. Also, he did not have his hands on the reins and slipped off the horse's hind at the break. Neither Velazquez or Phone Home was injured.

All bets on Phone Home, totaling $459,315, were refunded. It was the second time this meet that the New York Racing Association had to refund wagers on an even-money favorite. On Aug. 1, Rumpsringa was ordered a non-starter when he was deemed in the hands of an assistant starter as the gates opened.

Last Friday, Tobruk, with Velazquez up, was compromised at the start when he turned his head at the start. It appeared as though he was in the hands of an assistant starter, but the stewards ruled that was not the case.

Still, gate mishaps have been commonplace for months at NYRA tracks, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in refunds.

"We're going to have a meeting about this,'' a frustrated Velazquez said. "They're trying their best, but they need a little more communication, I think.''

Bruce Johnstone, NYRA's manager of racing operations, said that many members of the gate crew lack experience.

"We had a lot of people retire," Johnstone said. "We have a handful of older guys and a lot of younger men. Any gate crew is slow to mature. The learning curve could be five to seven years when they're doing it repeatedly and you don't have to think about it.''

This was the third time at the meet that Velazquez hit the ground in a race. Velazquez was aboard Massoud - who broke down while on the lead in midstretch - as well as Phone Home and Tobruk.

"It's getting to be a little frustrating,'' Velazquez said. "But I'm here.''

Silver Tree Australia-bound?

Silver Tree, winner of Sunday's Fourstardave Handicap, may be pointed to the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley Racecourse near Melbourne, Australia, trainer Bill Mott said Monday. Mott said many of the major races in North America in the fall are run around one turn, and his horse "has never run good in a one-turn race.''

Mott said he and owner Peter Vegso were considering the Cox Plate for Silver Tree last year, but the horse wasn't dong well physically.

"They've been after my owner for awhile,'' Mott said. "They're hoping to make it an international race; they're trying to get people to come. We were thinking he'd have a chance to stay as a stallion. He's a neat little horse but he won't get any shot over here.''

Meanwhile, trainer Neil Howard said he could not find a valid reason why Brilliant, the 9-5 favorite in the Fourstardave, stopped so abruptly after making the lead in the stretch. Howard said an endoscopic examination didn't reveal anything amiss.

"He bobbled a little at the three-sixteenths pole,'' Howard said. "There's been a lot of racing on the grass. They're taking advantage of the weather we've been having. I think he just hit a soft spot. But other than that, he had no excuse. He walked around after the race like a horse who didn't fire his best race. We'll let the dust settle and decide what to do next.''

Chelokee done for the year

Chelokee, the talented 3-year-old colt who has won two consecutive stakes races, has been turned out for the remainder of the year with an ankle issue, trainer Michael Matz said Monday.

Coming off wins in the Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico and Grade 3 Northern Dancer at Churchill, Chelokee had been pointing to last Saturday's West Virginia Derby, but Matz didn't like the way Chelokee had been training. Though traditional X-rays didn't reveal anything, a more sophisticated scan showed some problems with his ankles.

"Our alternatives were to either inject him or give him some time off, and we elected to give him the time off and bring him back as a handicap horse,'' said Matz, who trains Chelokee for Centennial Farms.

Also, Matz said that Chelokee had an undescended testicle removed, making him a ridgling.

Dream Rush: Once more before Cup

Dream Rush, who captured the Grade 1 Test Stakes on Saturday, will have one more start in preparation for the inaugural Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Monmouth Park on Oct. 26, trainer Rick Violette Jr. said Monday morning.

"The Gallant Bloom," Violette said of the Grade 2, $150,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont Park on Sept. 22, "I think is going to be the best way to get her there.''

Violette said he would have loved to have gotten a prep for Dream Rush at Monmouth, but there is nothing for her in a proper time frame.

Violette said that Dream Rush, a 3-year-old daughter of Wild Rush, ran her best race in the Test, and he believes she can continue to improve.

"She's really maturing," Violette said. "She was great in the paddock before the race."

Boca Grande, who rallied from last to get second in the Test, is under consideration for the Grade 1 Ballerina on Aug. 26, trainer Shug McGaughey said.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman