09/12/2007 11:00PM

Waiting for answers from Rags to Riches

Joseph DiOrio/Horsephotos
Rags to Riches will make her first start since winning the Belmont in Saturday's Gazelle.
ELMONT, N.Y. - As he strolls the sales grounds at Keeneland searching for his future stars, owner Michael Tabor is constantly reminded of the yearling he purchased there two years ago that is his current heroine.

It was Sept. 12, 2005, when Tabor and partner Derrick Smith plunked down $1.9 million for the A.P. Indy-Better Than Honour filly known today as Rags to Riches. Two months ago, Rags to Riches vaulted to rock-star status when she won a stirring stretch duel with Preakness winner Curlin to become the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes.

After a number of setbacks that have forced her to miss a couple of races, Rags to Riches is now set to make her first start since the Belmont in Saturday's $250,000 Gazelle Stakes at Belmont Park.

To Tabor, who maintains a large stable in Europe, where fillies take on - and beat - colts with regularity, Rags to Riches's achievement didn't seem extraordinary at the time. But he has come to realize what a big deal it was.

"I'm learning it more and more and more," Tabor, 65, said by phone Wednesday morning from Keeneland. "A lady came up to me yesterday, she's writing a book and she gave me a poem. [Rags to Riches] obviously captured the imagination of the public.

"Everyone wants to be associated with, hopefully, a legend," Tabor added. "Hopefully, she'll carry on in that vein. We want her to cement her status."

The first step toward doing that will take place Saturday, when Rags to Riches, trained by Todd Pletcher, returns to facing her own gender in the Grade 1 Gazelle. Ordinarily, Rags to Riches would be viewed as almost unbeatable against the likes of Lear's Princess, Tough Tiz's Sis, Le Cheateau, and Dorm Fever.

But given the setbacks Rags to Riches has incurred since mid-July, there will be some added intrigue in her comeback. To review, Rags to Riches suffered a fever that forced her to miss the Coaching Club American Oaks. A day after that race, Rags to Riches was pulled up less than a furlong into a five-furlong workout at Belmont. She spent several days at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania, where she underwent a battery of tests that showed nothing amiss. But Rags to Riches missed too much training time to make the Alabama.

In late August, Rags to Riches developed another fever that ultimately forced her to miss last Saturday's Ruffian, where she would have faced older horses.

Through all of this, Tabor said he was unfazed.

"It's been nothing that has been a disaster," Tabor said. "Just minor sort of hiccups, nothing to say that she has a real problem. It hasn't been ideal, obviously, as you'd like to have her run, but it's nothing that's going to affect her future."

Provided she can stay healthy, Rags to Riches's future includes two more races this year, the Gazelle and most likely the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27. Tabor did not totally rule out running Rags to Riches against males in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but it would appear that there would have to be major defections from that field for that to happen.

"I take one race at a time," said Tabor, who is often represented at auction by his racing manager, Demi O'Byrne. "I haven't discussed it; what I've got in my mind, or what Todd's got in his mind, or what Demi's got in his mind. Let's take this race, hopefully do what we think she can do, see how she does it, and come back sound. We don't have to make that decision at this moment in time."

A decision Tabor has made is that Rags to Riches will run as a 4-year-old.

"Absolutely," he said. "Why wouldn't we? With an animal like that you want her to run and enjoy her as a 4-year-old. These things don't always work out in racing, but in an ideal world that's what we would do."

The Green Monkey may finally run

In addition to watching Rags to Riches run on Saturday, it is possible that Tabor will also get to see The Green Monkey finally make it to the races. Tabor and his partners shelled out $16 million at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-olds in training sale at Calder in February 2006 for the son of Forestry-Magical Masquerade, but that horse has had his setbacks and has yet to make it to the races. That could finally come to fruition on Saturday.

"I hope I'm looking forward to it,' Tabor said.

Tabor said he hasn't been preoccupied thinking about when and if The Green Monkey would make it to the races.

"Frankly, I've got plenty of other things to keep me occupied," Tabor said. "It's something you put on the back burner. It's not something you drive yourself crackers with, is it?"