The stars aligned for ABC Saturday. On the very day it had scheduled a new made-for-TV movie about Ruffian, the great filly euthanised after suffering a broken leg in a 1975 match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, Rags to Riches became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes, third and most grueling leg of the Triple Crown, in a terrific race carried on ABC (with the video now found at ESPN.com). It came down to a stretch run between Rags to Riches and Curlin, winner of the Preakness after showing at the Derby. For a while the two horses seemed to exchange the lead with each stride, with first one's head and then the other's bobbing to the front, as if they were acting out a real-life version of one of those mechanical games found in old-style carnival arcades.
Curlin figured to have the edge. At a mile and a half -- a quarter-mile longer than the Derby -- the Belmont is considered daunting for the strongest colts and the final test of any Triple Crown contender. Yet Rags to Riches held off Curlin, the even-money favorite, by "an elegant head," in the words of New York Times writer Joe Drape, and if there was some sexism hidden within that phrase, Rags to Riches made it seem ironic. Ruffian the movie, produced by ABC's corporate sibling ESPN, did the filly proud, featuring a fine performance by Sam Shepard as taciturn trainer Frank Whiteley, but it was Rags to Riches that really paid homage to Ruffian, who is buried at Belmont, where she suffered her life-ending injury after winning the filly Triple Crown -- now evidently referred to as the Triple Tiara. None of that for Rags to Riches: she stole the crown as horse of the year from Curlin in a way that left no doubt about it.