Three-quarters of the way into the gloom and doom of ABC-TV’s misguided production of what portended to be an ordinary Belmont Stakes with no Kentucky Derby winner entered, Rags to Riches, a beautiful chestnut lady, wrested attention away from the mundane and became, as can happen in the Sport of Kings, an instant queen.
As the first filly to win the mile and a half classic in 102 years, the sweet-faced daughter of A.P. Indy lived up to the praise of her overseer. Trainer Todd Pletcher said prior to the race, “There’s probably not a better bred horse in the world for the Belmont.”
Pletcher, the Eclipse Award winning Trainer of the Year for 2004, 2005 and 2006, recorded his first Triple Crown victory in 29 tries. “She has a kind eye, but you wouldn’t want to mess with her,” he warned all doubters who figured a female couldn’t better males in the Belmont. Later, the cameras caught Pletcher pumping the air with his fist and hugging his wife until she lost her hat in an embrace - occurrences that are rarer than even a short string of losses for him.
Rags to Riches, a $1.9 million Keeneland yearling purchase by Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor, has the same dam as Jazil, last year’s Belmont Stakes winner, proving once again that, except for the occasional lightning strike, the rich do get richer in racing, not the other way around. Despite the inappropriate nature of her name, the well-bred distaffer clearly deserved the boatload of money that NYRA track officials presented her owners afterward.
Saturday’s Belmont attracted two of the big three three-year-olds of spring. But do not include Hard Spun among them. In his bid to become only the ninth horse to hit the board in all three Triple Crown events, Hard Spun finished fourth. He is a nice horse for stakes like the Pennsylvania Derby, but not one for races against Street Sense, Curlin and Rags to Riches.
Although Rags to Riches paid $10.60 to win, the Belmont’s stirring result laid waste to the television commentators’ reputations as expert handicappers. After that, one had to wonder what, after all, were they good at. Perhaps one or two of the talking heads selected the winner, but the overriding topics of trauma and danger that their producers had them covering negated that.
Brent Musburger, acting too starry-eyed for being a veteran anchorman, opened the Belmont telecast with an over-the-top soliloquy. Jerry Bailey, high on his press clippings for being a good analyst, acted disingenuous and stagy. Jeannine Edwards, whose smile is an endorsement for flossing, should fire the makeup artists who made her eyes look as if they were rolled up into her forehead like a school kid pretending to be a zombie. Grumpy Hank Goldberg, who suffers from gout, couldn’t get away from a pained expression.
The Alabama Stakes at Saratoga is next on Rags to Riches’s agenda, but the same television crew won’t be there to capture it. When the new queen of racing takes on Street Sense and Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, that’s when the tolerance of television viewers will be tested again.