Afleet Alex had to work harder than in his previous three starts, but he remained unbeaten Saturday with a victory in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga.
The race didn't go as most handicappers would have thought, but the top two choices still ended up finishing one-two. Devils Disciple had the rail and speed and was running over a sloppy Saratoga track that had favored speed. However, he didn't take the lead until they had run four furlongs in the seven-furlong race over a sealed racetrack.
It was Winning Expression that had the lead as they ran a quarter in :22, with Devils Disciple to his inside and Storm Surge in third. As they ran a half mile in :44.79, Jeremy Rose had Afleet Alex sitting in fourth behind Devils Disciple, Winning Expression, and Flamenco.
In his previous start, a win at Saratoga in the six-furlong Sanford Stakes (gr. II), Afleet Alex circled the field in the turn. In the Hopeful, he was wide and about three lengths from the lead when they straightened away for home.
With Rose hitting Afleet Alex left-handed, he moved from the four path way out to the center of the track as Devils Disciple kept the lead and Flamenco took second. They ran six furlongs in 1:09.90. Rose switched the whip to the left and Afleet Alex moved toward the rail and took aim on Devils Disciple. He moved by in the last few strides to keep his unbeaten streak alive. His time for the seven furlongs was 1:23.58.
"He really wasn't running his race," said trainer Tim Ritchey. "Once Jeremy (Rose) got him out of he mud and he hit him left-handed the last five or six strides, it was the normal Alex. It is something we'll have to work on. We'll have to work him behind horses, so he can get some more dirt in his face. He obviously has the ability; we just have to make sure it doesn't come up that close again. We were looking at the toughest 2-year-olds on the East Coast; maybe even the whole country. We'll re-group to make sure he comes out of the race okay. The Futurity is a possibility. This race is obviously going to take a lot out of him, so I may skip the Futurity (grade II, $300,000, one mile, Belmont Park, Sunday, Sept. 19) and go for the Champagne (grade I, $500,000, 1 1/16 miles, Belmont Park, Saturday, Oct. 9)."
"I think the post (3) didn't help us any," said trainer Joseph Waunsch of Devils Disciple's effort. "He had to stay where he was, and the other horse kept pressing him all the way. If he had an outside post, where he could not worry about losing position, we might have been okay. He's either going to go to New York for the Champagne or the Lane's End, (but I'm) probably leaning toward the Lane's End (Breeders' Futurity, grade I, $$500,000, 1 1/66 miles, Keeneland, Saturday, Oct. 9)."
Afleet Alex is by Northern Afleet
and out of the Hawkster mare Maggy Hawk. Bred in Florida by John Martin Siverland, he is owned by Chuck Zackney's Cash is King Stable. He won his first two starts at Delaware Park before shipping to Saratoga.
The juvenile colt was purchased at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale earlier this year for $75,000.
Afleet Alex, the heavy favorite, paid $3.40, $2.40 and $2.10. Devils Disciple returned $3.20 and $2.10, and Flamenco, who ran second to Afleet Alex in the Sanford, paid $2.10.