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Rags to Riches stumbled out of the gate Saturday, then steadied herself and showed the boys how it's done. She became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes. Just 10 fillies have outraced the field of colts at one of horse racing's Triple Crown races.
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It's hard not to think Rags to Riches was guided Saturday afternoon by the spirit of another great filly, Ruffian, whose remains are buried in Belmont Park's infield.
Ruffian, a great dark bay out of Kentucky, had outrun all her female peers in 1975. So, in the battle-of-the-sexes zeitgeist that infused the 1970s - Billie Jean King had just beaten Bobby Riggs in tennis two years earlier - a boy-girl match race at Belmont Park was set. Ruffian was pitted against that year's Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure. Ruffian overtook the colt and pushed her lead. Then her right foreleg snapped. She ran an additional 40 yards before stopping. Ruffian survived surgery, but thrashed about so wildly in recovery that she broke her cast and another leg and was put down.
Rags to Riches is a filly with a noble lineage that includes two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Secretariat - and the heart of Ruffian.