Wow! Afleet Alex Crushes Belmont Field

Wow! Afleet Alex Crushes Belmont Field
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Afleet Alex makes it look easy with runaway Belmont win.
Afleet Alex, very, very confidently ridden by Jeremy Rose, made the same move he made in the Preakness (gr. I)...only this time he wasn't bumped. He blew by the field and romped home to win the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in impressive fashion.

In the Preakness, Afleet Alex was moving strongly through the turn, but coming out of the bend, he was bumped by Scrappy T. He righted himself and went on to win by 4 ¾ lengths. But many thought if he hadn't been bumped, he would have won by a much wider margin.

In the Belmont, Rose sat as patiently as he could before letting Afleet Alex unleash his kick--and it was devasting. He eased through traffic and then pounced on the horses in front of him, blowing them away down the stretch.

Afleet Alex won by seven lengths and it was another 6 ¾ lengths from second-place Andromeda's Hero back to the maiden, Nolan's Cat.

Owned by Cash is King Stable and trained by Tim Ritchey, Afleet Alex came close to being a Triple Crown winner. He was third, beaten just a length, in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). The son of Northern Afleet became the 18th horse to lose the Derby but win the Preakness and Belmont.

Afleet Alex is a great story in many ways. He is the first horse bought by his owners, a partnership headed by Chuck Zacney; he is the best horse ever trained by his conditioner; and he is ridden by 26-year-old Rose.

Also, the horse has been running for Alex's Lemonade Stand, which raises money for pediatric cancer. On Belmont day, more than 30 racetracks had stands set up to collect money.

Bred in Florida by John Martin Silvertand, Afleet Alex was bought by Ritchey for $75,000 at last year's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale.

How good is Afleet Alex? He ran the last quarter of the grueling 12-furlong Belmont in :24.50, the fastest final quarter since Arts and Letters in 1969.

Nick Zito, who saddled five horses in the Derby and three each in the Preakness and Belmont, finally hit the board, his Andromeda's Hero running second. Indy Storm, another Zito trainee, finished fourth.

Many questioned owner Ken Ramsey and trainer Dale Romans for running Nolan's Cat in the race as a maiden but he ran third. Of course, he is still a maiden.

Giacomi wound up seventh but jockey Mike Smith said the horse stopped because he had trouble breathing, suggesting he may have flipped his palate.

Pinpoint broke on top and was joined by A. P. Arrow and Southern Africa, all of whom figured to show early speed in the race. Chekhov and Giacomo were just behind that group. They went the opening quarter in :24.47 and the half in :48.62, then Chekhov began to back out of it as Giacomo looked poised to make a move.

The field ran six furlongs in 1:12.92.

At this stage, Rose had Afleet Alex sitting in eighth and just waiting to be asked to run. He was very relaxed down the backstretch as Rose bided his time.

A.P. Arrow took the lead as Southern Africa moved on the outside. Giacomo was in prominent in third and Pinpoint fourth as they went a mile in 1:38.05.

But little did they know what was happening behind them. Rose asked Afleet Alex to run and he just exploded, moving effortlessly in the turn as he took complete command of the race.

Before you could catch your breath, Afleet Alex was striding out to be on top by six with an eighth of a mile to run, and Rose shook the stick in celebration as they approached the line. Andromeda's Hero veered a bit but Rafael Bejerano kept him to task to finish second as Nolan's Cat and Norberto Arroyo Jr. ran third, finishing 2 ¼ lengths ahead of fourth-place finisher Indy Storm.

They were followed under the wire by A. P. Arrow, Chekhov, Giacomo, Southern Africa, Watchmon, Reverberate, and Pinpoint.

"He just ran away from the field," Rose said. "He exploded at the quarter pole and that was it. Everything worked out beautifully. Most patient rides are the ones that win. I had the best horse. That's what makes it, I had the horse."

Afleet Alex paid $4.30, $3.60, and $3 while Andromeda's Hero returned $8.20 and $5.80. Nolan's Cat paid $7.20 to show. Afleet Alex was the 60th favorite to win the Belmont in 137 runnings.

It was the sixth time Nick Zito had finished second in the Belmont. Last year, he won the race when Birdstone upset Smarty Jones in his bid to win the Triple Crown.

"He should be a Triple Crown horse," Rose said. "Whether I did anything wrong, I don't know. Obviously he is the best 3-year-old in the country."

"He ran a great race in the Derby; you can't look back," Ritchey said. "If you had told us in March we would win two-thirds of the Triple Crown, we would have been ecstatic."

Ritchey had been saying all along he thought Afleet Alex could run "as far as they write races." He said the Belmont proved that was right.

"We expected this kind of performance," Ritchey said. "I wasn't surprised he was that far back, but when he got rolling, it was a lot of fun."

"I knew that if I didn't do something stupid, I was going to win this race. He's just that good," Rose said.

Afleet Alex was a top 2-year-old. He made six starts last year and won four of them, finishing second in the other two. He won two stakes at Saratoga, the Sanford (gr. II) and Hopeful (gr. I), before finishing the year by running second in the Champagne (gr. I) and Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).

He won the Mountain Valley in his first start this year and then ran his only bad race, finishing sixth in the Rebel (gr. III). After that race, however, he was scoped and found to have had an infection. He showed he was OK by winning the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) by eight lengths. In the Derby, Afleet Alex was 11th in the early running but moved to second in the stretch before finishing third, beaten just a length by Giacomo and a half-length by Closing Argument.

And, he will get the chance to run next year and at some point, on the turf, Ritchey said. Representatives of several stallion operations were visiting with Ritchey this week, but he said, "this horse will run as a 4-year-old; end of story."

"My horse broke really good this time. So, I stayed comfortable in good position, trying to stay close to Afleet Alex," Bejarano, on Andromeda's Hero, said. "When he moved at the three-eighths pole, I followed him, and when I asked my horse at the quarter pole, my horse started running strong. But Afleet Alex just ran away."

Many of the jockeys experienced the rush of power Afleet Alex showed. "I had a perfect trip," Edgar Prado, who rode Indy Storm, said. "He broke good. I was saving ground. I thought I had a good chance to win. But Afleet Alex went by me too fast."

The attendance was 62,274. Last year saw record attendance of 120,139 when Smarty Jones was going for the Triple Crown.

To purchase photographs of Afleet Alex and other great thoroughbreds, click here.

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