Afleet Alex, shown winning the Belmont, has been retired

Afleet Alex, shown winning the Belmont, has been retired

Skip Dickstein

Dual Classic Winner Afleet Alex Retired

Cash is King Stable's Afleet Alex, winner of this year's Preakness and Belmont Stakes (both gr. I), has been retired. Trainer Tim Ritchey announced Thursday the son of Northern Afleet  has been retired due to a recently detected injury believed to have caused the colt's hairline condylar fracture of the left front cannon bone suffered in July.

There is no deal pending on where the colt will stand at stud.

Afleet Alex has not started since the June 11 Belmont because of the injury. He retires with eight wins in 12 starts and earnings of $2,765,800. He nearly became the sport's 12th Triple Crown winner. He finished third in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) by a length, won the Preakness after nearly being knocked down by Scrappy T in the turn for home, and won the Belmont by seven lengths.

Ritchey said the fracture has healed, but a new problem was discovered on the latest set of xeroradiographs. Prior to being shipped to Gulfstream Park, where he currently is stabled, Afleet Alex was sent to the New Jersey Equine Clinic for an evaluation by Dr. Patricia Hogan, who performed the surgery to repair the fracture. A xeroradiograph of the cannon bone revealed an abnormal wedge-shaped section of bone abutting the original fracture line.

"The wedge," Hogan said, "is essentially an island of brittle bone that was once badly bruised, and over time has slowly lost its blood supply. As a result, the bone has become brittle and has lost its spongy characteristics. In medical terms, it is called avascular necrosis. It is in a location at the bottom of the cannon bone toward the back where it was almost impossible to see. We talked to Dr. (Larry) Bramlage about it and he said if it ever healed at all it would have taken months, and I don't think we'd ever feel confident radiographically that it would look normal enough for the horse to return to racing.

"The quality of this wedge of bone is so poor that the healing process would be very slow. Typically, this type of injury may take months before a hairline fracture occurs. Had this injury been apparent earlier, our focus would have been in an entirely different direction, one pointing Alex toward a career at stud instead of a return to racing. The horse was X-rayed every two weeks since July by different people, and we always took the view multiple times. At seven weeks it had healed beautifully; you couldn't see a single thing. There was no fracture line; it was perfect.

"But by 13 weeks I started to see this shadow. I told Tim it wasn't normal, and that's when we made the decision not to point for the Breeders' Cup. Then the shadow started to show more in subsequent weeks. Even on the xeroradiograph it is so subtle. It's not obvious at first, but you can see it if you know what you're looking for. The whole time during his training he was never sore, he never flexed badly, and he always had a tight joint--all the things we use to check for a problem. I do hundreds of condylar fractures and you rarely see something like this happen."

Ritchey said he believes the injury originated in the Preakness, when Afleet Alex clipped the heels of Scrappy T at the top of the stretch and stumbled badly, nearly falling. Hogan said the "terrible jar" in the Preakness could have caused the problem.

Afleet Alex underwent a 20-minute operation July 27 in which Hogan inserted a single screw into his cannon bone. After consulting with Bramlage, Hogan recommended an aggressive post-op care, and the bone responded to the point where Alex was able to turn in a pair of bullet works at Belmont Park, the first coming 65 days after the surgery.

"We're all very disappointed and frustrated," said Cash is King managing partner Chuck Zacney. "We were really looking forward to racing Alex next year and to showing just how great a horse he was. I don't think horse racing fans saw the best of Alex. They saw a lot of very good races, but, the way he was growing and maturing, I really feel the best was yet to come."

As for their decision to keep Alex despite the huge offers for the horse as early on as after his first start, Zacney said, "The truth of the matter is we've been getting calls from day one to sell Alex. We received so many lucrative offers for him as a 2-year-old, but we decided not to sell because of our love for horseracing. We were told after the Belmont (gr. I) that that was the time to sell. We knew the risks involved, but we felt his 4-year-old campaign would be very successful and that he would go down in the archives as one of the greatest racehorses. Unfortunately, we're given no choice at this time and we do have to retire him, based on the recommendation of both Dr. Hogan and Dr. Bramlage. The next step is to find a good home for Alex."

Afleet Alex, bred in Florida by John Martin Silvertand out of the Hawkster mare Maggy Hawk, won his eight career races by an average margin of 6 1/2 lengths, and did it at six different distances from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/2 miles.

Ritchey purchased the colt at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale at Timonium for $75,000. It was the first horse purchased by Cash is King, which consists of Zacney, Joe Lerro, Bob Brittingham, Jennifer Reeves, and Joe Judge, all of whom are from the Philadelphia area.

Afleet Alex was able to reach out to mainstream America not only because of his heroics in the Preakness, when he averted certain disaster by picking himself up off the ground and going on to win, but because of his connection to Alex's Lemonade Stand and its fight against juvenile cancer.

When he was a foal, his dam, Maggy Hawk, was unable to produce milk, and therefore could not provide her foal with colostrum, which is needed to help fight off disease outside the womb. During the 12 days it took to find a nurse mare, Silvertand's then 9-year-old daughter Lauren fed the foal milk out of a Coors Lite bottle.

More than two years ago, Silvertand was diagnosed with cancer and given only a couple of months to live. But when Afleet Alex turned into one of the top 2-year-olds in the country, winning the Hopeful (gr. I) and Sanford Stakes (gr. II), Silvertand decided to discontinue chemotherapy in order to fully enjoy the colt he had bred and nursed.

No one will miss Afleet Alex more than Ritchey, who formed a close bond with the colt. "This is going to be like sending your son off to college or seeing him get married," Ritchey said. "He's absolutely a part of our family, and this has been one of the most enjoyable years I've ever had. I was just so lucky to come across a horse like this that has affected my life, the owners' lives, my family's lives, and the lives of a lot of other people, especially those involved with Alex's Lemonade Stand and the children we visited in the different hospitals. He touched so many lives and he'll really be missed."