Pletcher deserves 'Riches' after Belmont triumph, says rival

ELMONT, New York -- Steve Asmussen believes rival trainer Todd Pletcher fully deserves his first Triple Crown race win.

Asmussen's Curlin was just touched off by the Pletcher-trained Rags To Riches in a thrilling finish to the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

Just a nose separated the pair at the line, denying Curlin another classic victory to add to his Preakness triumph, but allowing Pletcher to score a first win with his 29th runner in Triple Crown races.

"My hat is off to Rags To Riches. They ran the last quarter in 23.8 seconds in a mile-and-a-half race and she's a deserving classic winner," Asmussen said. "We lose one the exact same way we won one.

"I think Todd's very deserving (of a classic victory.) He does a great job and his filly ran a great race on the right day. In our camp, I thought Curlin came home really well. Robby (Albarado) gave him a nice trip and he ran all the way to the wire."

Rags To Riches is only the third filly to win the Belmont Stakes, joining Tanya (1905) and Ruthless (1867) in an elite group.

Record-breaking handler Pletcher was delighted to end his Triple Crown drought and believes the success of his filly is a huge bonus for the sport.

"As a rule, we're probably the one everyone is rooting against," said Pletcher, who set single-season records for the most Stakes and Graded Stakes wins in 2006. "We were the underdog; that was kind of sweet. The reception was kind of unbelievable.

"After we made the decision to run this filly, the reaction from the racing community was very enthusiastic. If nothing else, it was great for racing. Obviously, the end result, it was great for the filly."

Trainer John Shirreffs has high expectations of Tiago after he stepped up on his seventh place in the Kentucky Derby to claim third.

"If you know anything about (horses by) Pleasant Tap, they don't start getting good until their four-year-old year," he said. "This was a big step for him. He demonstrated he had the class, and with physical talent and maturity, he is just going to get better."