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Belmont Stakes: Curlin vs Rags to Riches
by Handicappers ( / Globeform (
Last update: 2007-06-09 08:30:52 (First published: 2007-06-05 08:13:12 )

Belmont Park 9 June: It will be a small field, but this year's Belmont Stakes (G1) promises to be a fascinating race.

Curlin, coming off a narrow win against Street Sense in the Preakness, renews rivalry with Hard Spun - who was back in third at Pimlico but had the upper hand at Churchill Downs.

Rags to Riches, a stylish winner of the Kentucky Oaks (G1), also joins in, and that makes this classic really interesting. A half-sister to last year's Belmont winner Jazil, and herself by a Belmont winner, A.P. Indy, she will stay the trip.


Belmont Park 9 June 2007 – 1 ½ miles dirt
Probable runners presented with best Globeform, sire, rider

A ‘+’ after horse indicates improvement expected

127 - CURLIN (Smart Strike) + / R Albarado
122 - RAGS TO RICHES (A.P. Indy) + / J Velazquez
123 - HARD SPUN (Danzig) + / G Gomez
115 - C P WEST (Came Home) + / E Prado
113 - TIAGO (Pleasant Tap) + / M Smith
111 - IMAWILDANDCRAZYGUY (Wild Event) / M Guidry
110 – SLEW’S TIZZY (Tiznow) / R Bejarano

Globeform ratings are expressed in pounds. 1 length = 1,5lbs over this distance.

CURLIN was running on strongly at the end of the Preakness Stakes (G1), where he just got up to beat Street Sense by a head, and he is the most likely winner of this Belmont. The son of Smart Strike clearly is a special horse. A shrewd $57,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland Sales as a yearling, he was virtually unknown at the beginning the year. Curlin never ran at two. As soon as he did at three, those who saw his debut knew he was a stakes horse in the making. But over what kind of trip? He flashed serious speed that day, as he beat Winstrella by nearly thirteen lengths in a 7/furlong maiden at Gulfstream Park. The date was February 3 and, with just three months to go to the Kentucky Derby (G1), not many would have anticipated him making it to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. But he did, via a high profile sale that took him from Helen Pitts to Steve Asmussen, and via easy wins in the Rebel Stakes (G3) and Arkansas Derby (G2).

Lack of experience told against him in the Derby, where he was shuffled further back than he had ever dreamt of being in a race early on, then finished well for third. He was beaten by Street Sense, who crossed the line 8 lengths in front of him, and Hard Spun, who was 5 ¾ lengths ahead in second.

Curlin beat both in the Preakness Stakes (G1). He fought his way up to Street Sense, and just nailed him on the wire, to win by a head. Hard Spun was 4 lengths away in third this time. Curlin produced Globeform 127+ at Pimlico. The distance was half a furlong shorter than at Churchill Downs, but he ran very much like a horse who appreciates a test of stamina. GF 127+ is extremely high for a horse making only his fifth lifetime start. He is improving still, and Curlin will be very, very tough to beat here. He came from off the pace at Pimlico, and will probably be ridden the same way at Belmont. We cannt say for sure that he will stay 12 furlongs, but he certainly promises to stay this trip much better than Hard Spun.

The Smart Strike colt had taken a big step up on his second start, when graduating from his breathtaking debut at Gulfstream to win the Rebel Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn on March 17, and he just kept on surprising. It was not surprising that a talented colt like this chestnut kept on winning – but, given his limited experience – it was surprising how he did it. One may think that the Arkansas Derby (G2) offered soft opposition and yes, as the early leader Deadly Dealer failed to stay, perhaps it did. It was still a test for Curlin, however, he scored ten points at every junction, and he lost little in defeat in Louisville. Where he was probably quite shocked to find himself towards the second half of a 20-runner field, and racing some way off the pace. It says a lot for his strength and attitude that he picked up and ran on for third. Many horses with his profile would have given up.

At Oaklawn Park, he settled beautifully a couple of lengths behind Deadly Dealer, was still perfectly balanced mentally when the outsider Slew by Slew moved past him as they were approaching the final turn, accelerated in the style of a seasoned pro when Albarado asked him to make a move halfway through that turn, and he ran on like a horse that should stay 1 ¼ miles. As soon as he straightened for home, the race was all but over. Curlin won by 10 ½ lengths with a bit in hand, though Albarado did keep him up to his task. That was the starting point to a campaign at the highest level.

Some bookmakers offer odds against about Curlin winning on Saturday, but he is most likely to be odds-on in the US pool when the gates open.

RAGS TO RICHES is a half-sister to last year’s Belmont winner Jazil, and she is also by a Belmont winner, A.P. Indy. Not many Belmont runners have been bred for the task like she is. A.P. Indy was one of the best Belmont winners in recent years, while Jazil was one of the worst – but he had plenty of stamina. How does Rags to Riches compare to the two. Well, she is somewhere in between. Not as good, yet anyway, as A.P. Indy was – but already markedly better than Jazil. She has improved with every run, she has won three Grade Ones on the bounce, and she produced a high class performance to win the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on her most recent start. Patiently ridden in fifth early on, she made smooth progress to take command early in the home straight, and ran out a comfortable 4 ¼-length winner over her stable companion Octave, who stayed on well for second, 3 ½ lengths in front of High Heels, who was 3 ¼ lengths better than the fourth placed filly, Dawn after Dawn. It was a very easy win, in a race where the rest of the filed was well strung out. Rags to Riches has a pedigree and a running style to stay the Belmont trip, she has the luxury of a 5lb sex allowance – a weight difference that equals just over 3 ¼ lengths at this distance, and she may prove to be Curlin’s most serious rival.

Prior to her success at Churchill Downs, she had landed the, not so unusual, Las Virgenes / Santa Anita Oaks double at Santa Anita. She broke little sweat in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1), where she defeated Silver Swallow by 5 ½ lengths. Only four met her, after her brilliant win in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G1), but she could hardly have been more impressive.

She had only raced twice prior to the 8.5-furlong Las Virgenes, run on February 10, and she was drawn widest in the nine-runner field. Garrett Gomez rode a fine race, and a confident one too, as he sat at the back early. He was forced wide on both turns but was on a filly with class. She quickened up really well in the straight, to glide past the Santa Ysabel (G2) winner Baroness Thatcher, who tried to make all but was beaten ¾ length. As the latter was giving her 4lbs, she came out best on our ratings – but Rags to Riches had Baroness Thatcher 9 lengths behind in the Santa Anita Oaks (level weights) – another indication of how rapidly she has improved over the past four months.

The daughter of A P Indy was fourth to Change Up on her debut – over 5.5 furlongs at Churchill Downs last June – and not seen again until January 7, when she took a maiden at Santa Anita by 6 lengths from Iron Butterfly. And now she is good enough, plenty good enough, to meet two of the three best colts in North America. Can she beat them? It is not impossible. If Curlin has his stamina limitations, she will be the one to take full advantage. Rags to Riches wasn’t exactly stopping at the end of the 9-furlong Oaks, and it was impressive to see how well she coped with being in traffic in a big field and coping with a muddy track. Remember, she been winning over fast tracks at Santa Anita, in smaller fields and over shorter distances. She is versatile, she is improving, and she is a bit special this filly. Built more like a colt, she will not feel intimidated in the Belmont field and she has every chance.

HARD SPUN ran a great race at Churchill Downs, by far his best to date, when he was 2 ¼ lengths behind Street Sense. He had impressed in a couple of his prep races but finishing a clear second in the Run for the Roses took him to a new level. One could see, as soon as they entered the stretch, that Street Sense had his measure – but Hard Spun ran on really gamely to the line, to be a clear second. Take Street Sense out and he would be a five-length winner of the Kentucky Derby! Not bad, for a colt most of us thought would be a pure miler. Hard Spun is more than that, he is a very effective, relaxed front-runner who stays 1 ¼ miles. Though 9 furlongs is probably his ideal trip, and that is why he may be in trouble at Belmont. There is no serious speed in this field but 1 ½ miles is still quite testing, and the winner will have to possess stamina.

His third in the Preakness, 4 lengths behind Curlin, was another fine effort but slightly disappointing nevertheless, as the drop in distance should suit him. Hard Spun raced prominently again, without taking the early lead, and had a good trip.

The last furlong at Churchill is tough to swallow, however, and if you judge his Belmont chances based on how he coped with that, he is in with a good chance. Though realistically, he seems up against it. Unless, of course, they go very slowly early on. Much was made of how it all opened up for Street Sense in the Derby, but people seem to have lost sight of the fact that Hard Spun also had the ‘run of the race’. He was comfortable on the lead, not quite ignored by the others but not put under any serious pressure either. That is how he likes it best, but that is not the style of a Belmont winner.

TIAGO, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and C P WEST, a game third in the Preakness Stakes (G1), are the ones to complete our Superfecta plan. They are both quite strong on stamina, and C P West makes quite a bit of appeal. He ran his best race to date at Pimlico, where he was only 1 ½ lengths behind Hard Spun. With a bit more improvement, something that could come with the added distance, C P West might even reverse that form at Belmont.







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