Rags to Riches made history on several levels with her gritty victory over Preakness winner Curlin in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

In becoming the first filly in 102 years to win the most demanding of North America’s three spring classics, Rags to Riches also gave her trainer, Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher (the world’s top stakes-winning trainer in this decade), his first Triple Crown victory in 29 tries and joined her half-brother, 2006 Belmont winner Jazil, as the only siblings to capture back-to-back runnings of a Triple Crown race.

And, just hours before the made-for-television movie “Ruffian” debuted on ABC, Rags to Riches also accomplished a couple of things the freakishly talented but ill-fated star couldn’t during her all-too-brief, comet-like journey across the American racing landscape more than three decades ago. Unlike Ruffian, who never competed in the Triple Crown and whose career — and, ultimately, her life — ended when she broke down early in a nationally televised 1975 match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, Rags to Riches was able to beat the boys on the national stage.

Perhaps most importantly for thoroughbred racing, though, Rags to Riches’ victory practically guaranteed the sport its most interesting summer in years.

Pletcher, who had won almost every important race in America but, mysteriously, had been shut out in the Triple Crown before Saturday, rolled the dice when he entered Rags to Riches in the Belmont. She wasn’t one of his five Kentucky Derby starters last month (the best of which finished sixth), and, despite his filly’s impressive victory in the Kentucky Oaks one day before the Derby, Pletcher didn’t decide to enter her in the Belmont until trainer Carl Nafzger said Derby winner Street Sense wouldn’t run.

But after she became the first filly to score in a Triple Crown event since Winning Colors went wire-to-wire in the 1988 Kentucky Derby, Rags to Riches now has the New York Racing Association drooling over another “Battle of the Sexes” a couple of months down the road.

Pletcher said Rags to Riches — who has suddenly achieved rock star status with her victory Saturday — will return in next month’s Coaching Club American Oaks (the last race Ruffian won before her match race with Foolish Pleasure) at Belmont Park, then she could take on the boys again in an historic running of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August.

No filly has won the Travers — nicknamed “The Midsummer Derby” since Ruthless in 1865, and, if NYRA can gather Street Sense, Curlin and Rags to Riches for this year’s renewal, it would mark only the second time ever that the winners of three Triple Crown races met later the same year. In 1982, Derby winner Gato Del Sol, Preakness winner Aloma’s Ruler and Belmont hero Conquistador Cielo collided in a five-horse field at the Travers, but longshot Runaway Groom spoiled the party with a last-to-first move to win the race at 15-1.

Thinking back to Runaway Groom’s victory always brings a smile to my face, because I watched the race with my son, Eric, who, at the time, was a year younger than the 3-year-old horses competing on the screen. Jeffrey Fell, a top Canadian jockey who was aboard the longest shot in the Travers field that day, wore blue silks with red sleeves and a red helmet cover, and, as Runaway Groom swept past Aloma’s Ruler and Conquistador Cielo in midstretch (with announcer Marshall Cassidy screaming “it’s RUNAWAY GROOOOOOM on the outside”), Eric pointed to the television and said, “Look Daddy, Spiderman’s on that horse!”

Although Street Sense bypassed the Belmont after winning the Derby and losing a photo to Curlin in the Preakness, he might have been the second biggest winner from Saturday’s race. If Curlin had beaten the filly in the Belmont, he would have become the clear-cut leader in the 3-year-old division; with Curlin’s loss, the Eclipse Award is still up for grabs, and, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic just a couple of months farther down the road, the Travers will be the last real opportunity for Street Sense to make his case for being 3-year-old champion against rivals his own age.

Ruffian’s trainer, Frank Whitely, and co-owner Stuart Janney finally succumbed to pressure from the media, the public and NYRA to send the filly against Foolish Pleasure in America’s last match race between prominent thoroughbreds 32 years ago. After Saturday’s race, though, Pletcher sounded like a man who couldn’t wait to see his new stable star take on the boys again.

“That would be awesome — a race for the ages,” Pletcher said when asked about the prospects for a showdown with Curlin and Street Sense at Saratoga. “She added a lot to the race yesterday, and by winning it she’ll add a lot to any race she goes into from here on out.”

One thing Rags to Riches proved Saturday was that, unlike most of the fillies who challenged colts before her, she is tough enough to knock heads with the boys and come out on top. Her stretch-long battle with Curlin brought back memories of another duel between two chestnuts, Affirmed and Alydar, in the 1978 Belmont, and she won the race despite stumbling at the start and racing wide while Curlin had a nearly perfect trip.

Admittedly, I didn’t think Rags to Riches was good enough to beat Curlin and a couple of her other male rivals Saturday. But her performance in the Belmont left me wanting more from racing’s newest star and thinking about the possibilities for the sport’s first summer to remember in a long time.

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