ELMONT, N.Y. -- Todd Pletcher couldn't sleep, so at 3 a.m. yesterday, he turned on the television and watched a replay of ABC's coverage of the Belmont Stakes. For Pletcher, it was a Sunday morning dream. Only the day before, his horse Rags to Riches became the first filly in 102 years to win the third leg of the Triple Crown.
"It's still sinking in," he said hours after watching the rerun. "It's kind of an amazing win. When you look at the historical significance of it -- 102 years is a long time.
"This was impressive because of the way she did it, who she beat, the trip she got. Nothing was handed to her. She overcame some adversity and she fought off a very, very good horse."
Pletcher said he was concerned about his filly's stumble at the start.
"When you're in that situation, running the fillies against the colts in a race of that magnitude, you don't want any disadvantages, and we gave up something right at the start," he said.
But it didn't stop Rags to Riches, who then ran four-wide most of the way around Belmont Park, while chief rival Curlin took the shorter route along the rail. When the field reached the top of the second turn, Curlin made his move to the lead on the inside. Rags to Riches burst right with him, running side by side with Curlin until she got her long, chestnut neck in front. She never gave the lead back and beat the big red colt to the finish by a head.
Pletcher said yesterday it was such a fantastic battle that it filled him with awe and relief.
"I heard comparisons to Phil Mickelson, but didn't feel I'd shanked one on the 18th with a two-stroke lead," said Pletcher, who won his first Triple Crown race. "We never got there with one that was supposed to win. But this is a relief now I've got one.
"And that race, I thought when she took the lead it was over, but then he came back on her at the one-eighth pole, and I thought if we lost it would be a brutal loss. It was a hell of a race by Curlin. ... If we hadn't won, I'd have been on the floor, still crawling out of there."
Outside of a Triple Crown winner, horse racing couldn't have asked for anything more enthralling. This year's Triple Crown series couldn't have been more healing, coming the year after 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro suffered a broken leg in the Preakness that led to his death eight months later.
Each of the three races produced a story line in which the best horse on that day won.
First, it was Street Sense overcoming the brave effort of Hard Spun to win the Kentucky Derby with an incredible ride along the rail with jockey Calvin Borel.
Then Curlin, who had come into the Derby off just three races -- all wins -- showed his iron spirit in the Preakness, coming back with a determined stretch run after being passed to beat Street Sense by a head bob at the finish in race-record-tying time.
And finally, Rags to Riches, the daughter of Belmont winner A.P. Indy, making her run against six strong contenders and finally holding off Curlin with her tenacity.
"Ten or 20 years down the road, we'll see how good this field really was," said Larry Jones, who trained the hard-luck Hard Spun, second in the Derby, third in the Preakness and fourth in the Belmont after a disappointing ride by jockey Garrett Gomez. "Already we know the filly made history, and I'll be able to say I was in there."
Though he didn't say so, Jones clearly wasn't happy with the job Gomez did.
"We're trying not to talk about that right now," said Jones, who with owner Rick Porter made the decision to use Gomez instead of Hard Spun's regular rider, Ellicott City's Mario Pino, in this race. "But I was very surprised my horse was not on the lead, especially given the slow early fractions. The lead has always showed that it worked well for him before.
"I'd say there is a really good high-percentage shot that Mario will be back on this horse in the future."
Despite no Triple Crown winner, racing has something to get excited about. For the first time in a long time, there is no doubt fans will be treated to seeing a star horse run far into the future.
Rags to Riches owner Michael Tabor said immediately after the race that the filly will continue to run this season and next, as long as she's healthy.
Tabor said he is sure Rags to Riches will be running against the boys again, and yesterday Pletcher was already plotting, as he nodded over the prospect that Rags to Riches has put herself in the running for not just Filly of the Year, but also Horse of the Year.
"I think she'll come back in the Coaching Club [American Oaks for fillies July 21] and then she'll have the option of coming back again in the Alabama [for fillies] four weeks later or in five weeks in the Travers," he said. "If everyone shows up at the Travers, it could be an awesome race, a race for the ages.
"Rags to Riches added a lot to the Belmont, and by winning it she'll add a lot to whatever race she is in from here on out."