LOUISVILLE, Ky. — LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- With 100,075 fans jamming into Churchill Downs yesterday, Rags to Riches sat off the pace in the Grade I, $500,000 Kentucky Oaks, waiting to make her point.
Rags to Riches, the California filly who has been criticized for building her resume against less than the strongest contenders, shut everyone up with her charge down the stretch to victory. With mud flying, the A.P. Indy 3-year-old drew away from the field and beat Octave to the finish by 4 1/4 lengths.
"She hadn't been in these conditions before and to be between horses was a concern, but we know she's a very good filly and we were hopeful," said owner Michael Tabor, who won the Kentucky Derby with Thunder Gulch in 1995. "I was nervous for only a second or so. She's a valuable broodmare, but this is what you dream about."
A traditionalist, Tabor had turned down the opportunity to run the filly in today's Kentucky Derby, but said after the Oaks: "Maybe we'll step up now."
Asked about the Preakness, he laughed and said, "Let's wait a day."
Tabor also has Scat Daddy and Circular Quay in the Kentucky Derby, and trainer Todd Pletcher, who trains those two Derby entries, Rags to Riches and Octave, said the victory by Rags to Riches gives him a good feeling about Circular Quay's chances today.
"What encourages me, Circular Quay and Rags to Riches have been on the same work schedule," Pletcher said. "What this girl did today, running a fabulous race like this off eight weeks' rest, made me feel a little better.
"She was settling into the slop a little bit; she'd never been in the mud before. And it was an astute move by [jockey Garrett Gomez] to move her to where it was a little more firm."
Pletcher did voice concern about the weather conditions, saying that if the track is deep and muddy today, it would not favor Circular Quay, who is not going to be running at the front of the field.
"But the track today was fair," he said. "Horses are winning from everywhere. The track isn't showing the [rail] bias we saw in the Breeders' Cup."
Tabor, an Englishman, was joyful.
"It would be absolutely utopia if Scat Daddy or Circular Quay won tomorrow," he said. "I said coming in here to win one of these two races would be marvelous. But, of course, having won one, you get greedy. An Oaks and American Darby double would be the dream of dreams. And with Her Majesty here, to win in front of her would be very pleasant."
Security? Oh, yeah
When Nobiz Like Shobiz trainer Barclay Tagg drove into the Churchill Downs grounds yesterday, he was stopped for a random car inspection by track security. When they went through the car's trunk, they found the gift bag from the Trainers' Dinner, handed out by the track. In it was a personalized jacket and a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon.
Security confiscated it.
"It says right on the bottle it's from the track," Tagg pointed out to the guard - without success.
Too much craziness
Trainer King Leatherbury, the third-winningest trainer of all time in the country, said he would stay in Maryland today while his horse, Ah Day, runs in the Grade II, $250,000 Churchill Downs Handicap.
"It's too crazy down there," he said by phone.
Asked whether he had been here, he said: "Oh, yes, I ran a horse in the Derby once."
The horse was I Am the Game. The year, 1985. Spend a Buck won.
How did Leatherbury's horse do?
"They have a Cup down there," he said. "It's not put out by the track. It's a novelty and it has the name of every last-place horse on it. I have one of those cups."
"They only pay the top five finishers," he said. "If you can't be top five, you might as well be last and get your name on the cup."
Everyone knows Queen Elizabeth II will be attending the Derby; now comes word more royalty is on the way. Seven-time NASCAR champion "King" Richard Petty will be here, too. "I heard she's a horse racing fan," Petty said. "I don't know what she knows about NASCAR, but maybe I can teach her a few things while I'm there."
Drug test surprise
Saying there was no sign of wrongdoing, John Veitch, chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, said the entire field of Kentucky Derby horses was tested Wednesday for the performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin.
Veitch told The (Louisville) Courier-Journal that blood samples were drawn from all 20 horses and that no trainers complained.
It was the first time the Derby field has been tested for the drug. also known by the trademark Epogen. Veitch said the test was done as part of an effort to strengthen enforcement of Kentucky's medication rules.