Pletcher, Velazquez end Triple Crown droughts

NEW YORK -- Todd Pletcher figures he's been looking in the wrong place for his Triple Crown candidates. Or at least at the wrong gender.

Pletcher ended an 0-for-28 drought Saturday, when the sensational filly Rags to Riches outdueled Preakness winner Curlin down the stretch in the Belmont Stakes.

The nation's top trainer had struggled once again during this Triple Crown season.

He had a record-tying five horses in the Kentucky Derby -- the best he could do was sixth with Circular Quay -- a day after saddling Rags to Riches to victory in the Kentucky Oaks. And he was 0-for-2 in the Preakness, a day after the filly Panty Raid won the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico.

Maybe he took the hint about the fillies. Regardless, all those questions about winning a Classic can stop.

"What did I have to lose?" Pletcher said, smiling. "I couldn't do it the easy way with a colt."

The decision to run Rags to Riches in the Belmont came after trainer Carl Nafzger decided to rest Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense for a fall campaign. But although Pletcher said it was an easy decision to make, history stood against him perhaps more than ever.

Rags to Riches was only the 22nd filly to run in the 1 1/2 -mile "Test of the Champion," the longest and most grueling of the Triple Crown races, and the first since Silverbulletday finished seventh in 1999. Only two fillies had ever won, Tanya in 1905 and Ruthless in the inaugural race in 1867.

"That's pretty intimidating stuff," Pletcher said. "The only thing we could really go by, first and foremost, was how good the filly was doing. ... (Then) I kept coming back to the pedigree."

The daughter of 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy and half-sister to Jazil, last year's Belmont winner, Rags to Riches seemed bred to go the distance. She powered away from the field down the stretch to also make a winner out of jockey John Velazquez -- who saw his own 0-for-20 drought in Triple Crown races end.

"It's no words to describe it," Velazquez said. "Todd said earlier, 'You have to have the right horse for the right race and the right circumstance.' I think this was our best chance right here today, with this filly, and we got it done."

Everything aligned for Velazquez, who was set to ride Slew's Tizzy in the Belmont, but jumped aboard Rags to Riches when Pletcher and owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith decided to run with the boys. Velazquez took over for regular rider Garrett Gomez, who decided to ride fourth-place finisher Hard Spun before Pletcher put Rags to Riches in the race.

"It's unfortunate for him, definitely," Velazquez said. "That's basically the way the business goes."

The only flaw in the race was when Rags to Riches stumbled from the gate. With help from Velazquez, she overcame the poor start.

"She stumbled in error and the first thing I thought was, 'Why did it happen right now,"' Velazquez said. "But Todd and I had talked and all we wanted was to give her a chance."