Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Decade to Remember: A Battle of the Sexes!

A field of seven stepped out onto the track. The favorite was a muscular burning red chestnut named Curlin. Standing at 16.1 hands and weighing in at almost 1200lbs he was the most imposing specimen of the bunch. He along with the gritty Larry Jones trainee, Hard Spun had just competed in the previous two Triple Crown races, with Curlin finishing third in the Derby and winning the Preakness in a courageous effort, that marked him as potentially an all time great. Hard Spun, after nearly stealing the Kentucky Derby, would finish a tough luck second to the previous year's juvenile champion Street Sense. He would then run third in the Preakness, after being rushed into blistering fractions, which left him empty in the stretch. The best of the rest of the males was Tiago, who had finished a distant seventh in the Kentucky Derby. The other three males were Imawildandcrazyguy, CP West, and Slew's Tizzy.

If the line up had ended there that years Belmont Stakes would've probably gone on to become little more than a distant memory of the decade, where Curlin thrashed his nearest opponent by eight lengths. Though, the addition of Todd Pletcher's super filly, Rags To Riches, gave the race the added spice it needed. Rags To Riches was just coming off her demolition in the Kentucky Oaks, where she steam rolled a field of 14 fine fillies, that included Octave and Dreaming of Anna, the top two finishers in last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies. After a five week freshening Todd Pletcher sent out his best shot at nabbing his first Triple Crown race.

The field loaded into the gate, with Curlin, in stall number three, being sent off as the 11/10 favorite. Rags to Riches would load last of all, in the seventh, and far outside stall. It didn't take long for the drama to unfold, for as soon as the gates flew open millions of television views and those in Belmont's grandstand, watched as the Oaks winner plummeted towards the ground, barely picking herself back up to continue on with the race.

After the break, Rags to Riches didn't seem any worse for wear, but even though she had recovered her position she was stuck nearly four wide on the first turn in a 12 furlong race. To her inside raced Hard Spun, and on the rail was the Preakness winner Curlin, striding powerfully around the track. The first quarter had been a sensible 24.74, but with Hard Spun being choked back by jockey Garret Gomez, the pace began to slow to a snail like pace. The first six furlongs went in a sluggish 1.15.32 and the mile in 1.40.23.

Rounding the far turn Slew's Tizzy and CP West began to fade back and Rags to Riches began to roll. Curlin was still bottled up on the inside as Rags to Riches had a clear stretch of ground unfolding in front of her. Bulling his way between CP West and Slew's Tizzy Curlin shot into the stretch with Rags to Riches half a length, still in front, and here the epic battle began. Curlin on the inside dug down finding more moving himself on even terms with his female counterpart, but Rags to Riches seemed to relish the challenge, finding more, refusing to let the hulking colt by.

Bump to bump, nose to nose they continued locked in a never ending battle of the sexes, but as the closed in on the wire Rags to Riches dug down, finding a final gear that propelled her under the wire, a determined head in front.

Though Curlin went onto become the Jockey Club Gold Cup winner and Breeders Cup Classic Champion that year, the Belmont would prove not only to be Rags to Riches best race, but one of her last. She returned months later to finish second against fillies in the Gazelle, only to emerge with a hairline fracture. Months after recuperating they put the fiery filly back into training, but after a work that according to her exercise rider "didn't feel right", she was found to have aggravated the fracture, and was then retired.

Even though Rags to Riches may not have gone on to fame and glory her historic Belmont will never be forgotten. For who can forget the image of two horses, a colt and a filly, locked into a thrilling never ending battle, that provided America with a race for the ages?


  1. It may not have been as memorable as Afleet Alex's magic show in the Preakness, was the best stretch drive of any Triple Crown race this decade. Your choices are two for two!

  2. I'm saving the Preakness for last. It is a race memorable not only because of the show Alex put on, but for personal reasons, which is why it's my most memorable.