09/12/2007 11:00PM

Ready or not, here she comes

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Deborah Kral/Horsephotos
Rags to Riches will make her first start since the Belmont in the Gazelle.
ELMONT, N.Y. - There are two schools of thought that horsemen and handicappers could take in regards to Rags to Riches, who makes her long-awaited return to the races in Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle Stakes at Belmont Park.

Some will take the approach that if ever Rags to Riches were vulnerable, it would be in the Gazelle. After all, she has not run in the 14 weeks since her historic Belmont Stakes victory, has had her training interrupted twice by elevated temperatures, and had an aborted workout that landed her in the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania for several days.

Others will be of the opinion that the connections of Rags to Riches wouldn't run her if they weren't confident she was 100 percent healthy.

Even reasonable men such as trainers Kiaran McLaughlin and Bob Baffert will disagree.

McLaughlin, who sends out Alabama runner-up Lear's Princess against Rags to Riches, said, "it's a good time to take her on."

Baffert, who will run Hollywood Oaks winner Tough Tiz's Sis against Rags to Riches, said, "I don't think there's ever a good time to take her on."

Everyone will know around 5:15 p.m. Saturday after Rags to Riches takes on Lear's Princess, Tough Tiz's Sis, Dorm Fever, and Le Chateau in the Gazelle at 1 1/8 miles around one turn.

The Gazelle is one of four graded stakes on an intriguing 10-race card at Belmont. The other stakes are the Futurity and Matron, for juvenile colts and fillies, respectively, and the Noble Damsel for fillies and mares on the turf. Saturday's card also features the debut of The Green Monkey, who sold for a world-record $16 million at auction as a 2-year-old last year.

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Rags to Riches, said he won't have any trepidation saddling his superstar filly because she has undergone extensive tests and nothing has proven to be amiss. He is also quite pleased with the way Rags to Riches has trained since the middle of August.

"When you're fortunate enough to get a horse like her, you can't help but magnify everything and be more concerned about everything and be more worried about everything,'' Pletcher said. "This filly has trained really well. She just had a series of minor setbacks along the way that would concern you, but we've also been extremely careful and checked everything out more so than you would for most horses that had minor issues.

"She's had more thorough exams than most horses ever have," Pletcher added. "From that perspective, and as closely as I've watched her train, I'm not concerned about her doing anything other than going over there and hopefully having a smooth trip.''

Her chances of having a smooth trip increased when she drew the outside post in the five-horse field.

"I don't think it makes a huge difference, but I always like drawing outside, especially when you're going to be the identified target in a race," Pletcher said. "Starting out in the clear and let things unfold inside of us before we have to commence our run."

Before becoming the first filly to win the Belmont in 102 years, Rags to Riches had dominated the 3-year-old filly division with Grade 1 wins in the Las Virgenes, Santa Anita Oaks, and Kentucky Oaks.

Her toughest rival in the Gazelle figures to be Lear's Princess, who comes off second-place finishes in both the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama.

In both races, Lear's Princess displayed a little inexperience switching back to her wrong lead at pivotal times in the stretch. McLaughlin is adding blinkers to Lear's Princess's equipment in hopes of erasing some of the immaturity while perhaps keeping her a little closer in the early stages of the race.

"We put blinkers on her this time to address some of the little issues - jumping off her leads," McLaughlin said. "She might lay a little closer than she has been."

Lear's Princess will break from the rail under Eibar Coa and, at 115 pounds, will be in receipt of seven pounds from Rags to Riches.

Baffert, who won the 1999 Gazelle with champion Silverbulletday, said he believes Pletcher wouldn't run Rags to Riches "unless everything was on go."

While Baffert said he would probably run Tough Tiz's Sis, he did want to see her train Friday morning at Belmont before making a final decision. After winning the Hollywood Oaks over Cushion Track, Tough Tiz's Sis finished sixth in the Alabama after dueling with Folk for the first seven furlongs.

"She was taking a big step up, she's come back and worked well," Baffert said. "Rags to Riches, she's in another area code than all of us."

Dorm Fever and Le Chateau, who finished one-two in the off-the-turf Heed Stakes at Saratoga last month, complete the field.