Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Afleet Beat Goes On

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Afleet Beat Goes On
Photo: Jeff Coady
Afleet Alex hopes to follow Arkansas Derby win with a victory in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
There isn't much more to say about Afleet Alex that hasn't been said before. Well, come to think of it, maybe there is. Alex was the star of the morning, being the only worker. He also was the center of attention at an informal auction to benefit cancer research.

Have I already said that Afleet Alex is a machine? Somewhere, there has to be an on/off switch that trainer Tim Ritchey flicks each morning. During the past nine days Alex has done absolutely nothing wrong. In fact, there hasn't been anything he's done that hasn't been near-perfect.

Before I start gushing too much, let's just say that whether Afleet Alex wins on Saturday or not, his presence at the 131st Kentucky Derby (gr. I) will be remembered for a long time, as will all the heart-tugging stories and human drama that have been spawned from this one little $75,000 colt.

Getting down to the business of the day, Alex went out for a half-mile work after the renovation break, and like his work last week, this one was right on the money. With jockey Jeremy Rose aboard. Alex coasted along early through fractions of :13 and :25 2/5. As he did last week, he cut the corner beautifully, changed leads on cue, and was really reaching out through the stretch. Rose kept his hands perfectly still and way down on the colt's neck, letting him do everything on his own. Alex, under a nice loose rein, was his usual determined self. With Rose crouched low in the saddle and his head buried in Alex's mane, the son of Northern Afleet   came home his final eighth in :11 3/5 to complete the half-mile in :48 1/5. He galloped out very strong, while still hugging the rail, going out another eighth in a sharp :13 flat.

This work was a virtual replica of last week's move. There is nothing this colt does that he doesn't seem to love, whether it's working, galloping, jogging, or wrestling with his plastic ball hanging in the middle of his stall. It is attached by an elastic band, and Alex will grab the ball and pull it right down to the floor, then let it fling back in the air before running around the stall and kicking at it.

In short, Afleet Alex is a rare gift, and as I said before, win or lose, this year's Derby will at least have served the purpose of introducing the racing world to a very special horse.

And Alex is the kind of gift that keeps on giving. At about 10 o'clock, a crowd gathered around "Alex's Lemonade Stand," located by the rail, where lemonade and Afleet Alex buttons were being sold to benefit childhood cancer research. As most everyone has read by now, the lemonade stand was started by a 4-year-old girl named Alexandra "Alex" Scott, who had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma two days before her first birthday. In July, 2000, she opened a lemonade stand in her front yard and donated the proceeds to "her hospital" to help raise money for research. Word spread, and donations came pouring in from all over the world, eventually reaching $1.6 million. Alex sadly passed away at the age of 8, but the lemonade stand continues, perpetuated now by the owners of Afleet Alex, who donate a portion of the colt's earnings.

This morning, a season in Afleet Alex's sire, Northern Afleet, who stands at Taylor Made Farm for a $12,500 stud fee, was auctioned off at Alex's Lemonade Stand. With Cash is King managing partner Chuck Zacney upping the price, the season was purchased for $37,000 by B. Wayne Hughes, owner of Derby starters Greeley's Galaxy and Don't Get Mad. When Zacney and Ritchey went over to him afterward, Hughes said, "I'm glad you ran the price up. It was for a good cause."

Back to the Derby

OK, enough heart strings and effusive praise for one day. There is a Kentucky Derby to be run, and other great stories to unfold. Not to mention a little event like tomorrow's post position draw.

Speaking of determined little horses, the diminutive Wilko made his first appearance on the track this morning, jogging once around with the pony. The son of Awesome Again   bounced along, taking in all the sights, and seemed perfectly content until he was about to exit the track. Suddenly, he planted his front feet, backed up and started to rear, breaking loose from the lead shank. He just stood there until back under control, then continued on his merry way, prancing off the track as if nothing had happened.

Dare I say yet again that High Limit had a monster gallop? Well, he did, moving along with his head down into the bit and powering over the ground with piston-like strides. He may be light on experience, but he won't take a backseat to anyone in the fitness department. Bobby Frankel could not ask the son of Maria's Mon to be coming into the race any better. He'll probably have a half-mile blowout tomorrow.

Also having very strong gallops this morning were Greeley's Galaxy, Bellamy Road, and Noble Causeway. Greeley's Galaxy has a magnificent way of going and reaches out with enormous strides for a horse his size. Bellamy Road again had his neck arched and was not as headstrong as he was a couple of days last week. He is one horse there is no mistaking on the track. No one even comes close to looking like him galloping. Noble Causeway was into the bit and moving along smoothly.

Derby Trial winner, Don't Get Mad, was out grazing yesterday afternoon, with trainer Ron Ellis taking a tight hold of him. The son of Stephen Got Even   was really on the muscle and was getting spooked by every little sound. Ellis was happy to see him with so much life following his scintillating score on Saturday. The colt has a beautiful, chiseled head, and a bright, alert eye. His coat was radiant and it wouldn't come as a surprise to see him bounce back in a week throw in another big one.

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