Filly Unlimited Budget will take on males in the Belmont Stakes Sat., June 8 at Belmont Park where she will be saddled by the only living trainer to win the 1 ½-mile race with a filly -- Todd Pletcher.
In 2007 Rags to Riches became the first filly in more than 100 years to win the Belmont, when Pletcher saddled the A.P. Indy filly to a narrow victory over Preakness Stakes winner and eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. On June 3 owner Mike Repole said he gave Pletcher the go-ahead to enter Unlimited Budget in the Belmont Stakes.
Repole said Unlimited Budget's physical size and her mental maturity give him confidence the Street Sense filly will fare well against males.
"She'll be one of the larger horses in the race," said Repole, who noted that the first time he saw the filly he thought she was a colt. "She's as big and tall, if not bigger, than many of these colts.
"The other thing is I think this year's 3-year-old fillies are very talented and I think they stack up well against the colts."
Unlimited Budget will be the first filly since Rags to Riches to start in the Belmont and just the 23rd in the race's 145-year history. Only three fillies have won the race, with Ruthless taking top honors in the very first Belmont in 1867 and Tanya winning the 1905 edition.
Repole also said he plans to have Pletcher enter Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze and promising maiden winner Midnight Taboo in the Belmont, giving him three starters.
Unlimited Budget, who will be ridden in the Belmont by Rosie Napravnik, enters the 1 ½-mile test off a third-place finish in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks, after entering that 1 1/8-mile race with a perfect four-for-four record, including victories in the March 30 Fair Grounds Oaks and Feb. 23 Rachel Alexandra Stakes and last year's Demoiselle Stakes.
Pletcher said Unlimited Budget does not have the type of obvious stamina pedigree that gave him confidence in starting Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont, but she does have the right build to face males.
"They're both big, strong fillies, which I think is important," Pletcher said. "When you look at running against colts, you want to make sure that physically, you're going to stack up. And in Unlimited Budget's case, she's a very strong filly, she carries a lot of condition, she's not going to stand out in the paddock as being the smaller filly of the group. She'll fit right in from a physical standpoint, and I think that's always important."
Unlimited Budget may lack the Belmont pedigree of Rags to Riches, but few horses have it. Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith's Rags to Riches was by 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy and out of the Deputy Minister mare Better Than Honour, who already had produced 2006 Belmont winner Jazil.
"The biggest thing about Rags to Riches and the reason why we decided to run her in the Belmont is her pedigree was just so stoutly -- she's so stoutly bred for the Belmont," Pletcher said. "Being a half sister to a Belmont winner and being by a Belmont winner, we always just felt very, very confident that the distance would suit her well," Pletcher said. "Unlimited Budget, she's run very well in every start of her career. I'm a little bit concerned about the bottom side of her pedigree. She's a daughter of Street Sense and that certainly is encouraging, however, the bottom side of her pedigree may not be quite as deep in stamina as Rags to Riches was."
But Pletcher has seen plenty of talent from Unlimited Budget, who won her first four starts by a combined 16 ¼ lengths.
"Well, first of all, you have to have enough talent to do it; it's the most important factor, and when you look at Unlimited Budget's races and her speed figures, her prior races, I think they match up very competitively against the colts," Pletcher said. "And then in the Belmont, the key factor is getting the distance.
"She's been successful at a mile and a sixteenth this year twice, and she was successful as a 2-year-old going a mile and an eighth, so that's encouraging. But, it takes a very talented filly to compete with the boys, and I think based on a couple of her wins, it certainly suggests that she could do that."
Repole noted that she has the mental ability to handle a 1 ½-mile race.
"She's very push-button and I think that's what you need in this type of race," Repole said. "We've seen her handle being on the lead, stalking, and racing from off the pace."
After the Belmont, Rags to Riches started only one more time, finishing second in the 2007 Gazelle Stakes. But Pletcher does not believe that racing against males at 1 ½ miles was too taxing on the filly.
"I think probably what compromised her more than anything was the stumble at the start," Pletcher said. "She took a pretty nasty fall down to her nose at the beginning of that race. If there was any negative effect, I think it came from that; it wasn't the 1 ½-mile distance."
Pletcher said seeing fillies win top races against males in recent years gives him extra assurance when considering such a move.
"It certainly gives you added confidence knowing that it's been done with a filly somewhat recently," Pletcher said. "The success other fillies have had following Rags to Riches, when you look at Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, they've certainly shown the best fillies of their generation can sometimes compete with the best colts."
Fillies to place in Belmont Stakes
1867: Ruthless (1st)
1868: Fanny Ludluw (3rd)
1869: Invercauld (3rd)
1870: Midday (3rd)
1905: Tanya (1st)
1913: Flying Fairy (3rd)
1927: Flambino (3rd)
1980: Genuine Risk (2nd)
1996: My Flag (3rd)
2007: Rags to Riches (1st)