What a Finish! Afleet Alex Nearly Falls, Wins Preakness

After nearly going down when bumped by Scrappy T entering the stretch, a gutsy Afleet Alex recovered and went on to win the $1-million Preakness (gr. I) in impressive fashion Saturday at Pimlico.

It was the fifth straight year the favorite won the Preakness, but it might have been the most dramatic of any of those runnings.

Coming out of the turn for home, jockey Ramon Dominguez smacked his whip left-handed on the leader Scrappy T, who bore out into the path of a charging Afleet Alex and Jeremy Rose. Afleet Alex, the 3-1 favorite, clipped heels and nearly went down. But he righted himself, straightened away, and drove to the wire to win the middle leg of the Triple Crown.

As the field broke from the gate, Rose steered Afleet Alex him from the 12 post in the 14-horse field toward the inside rail. The colt was in the two-path as the field headed around the first turn. Scrappy T had made the lead out of the gate, but High Limit and Going Wild soon took over and Scrappy T settled into third. They went the opening quarter in the 1 3/16-mile race in :23.17, and the half-mile in :46.07, not as fast as the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) two weeks ago, but quick nonetheless.

Rose had a lot of horse under him after six furlongs had been completed in 1:10.72. Afleet Alex was sitting only seven lengths behind the leaders and rolling on the rail. In the turn for home, he eased by everyone but Scrappy T, as Rose moved him to the outside for his stretch run.

Then the incident happened.

"I thought for sure we were going down," Rose said. "The thought process was I was going to get run over. The instinct was just to hang on and try to get my balance back.

"If he goes down I don't have any chance. I was scared. I had enough time to think about hitting the ground, but he came back up underneath me.

"He picked himself right up, and after that I knew he had it won," Rose added. "He's an amazing horse. I've never seen a horse stumble like that and then win a race like this.

"I'm sorry for the incident," Dominguez said. "He (Scrappy T) caught me off guard. I felt like he was kind of easing back on me and looking around some. I decided to hit him left handed and it completely, I think, caught him off guard."

Once Rose got Afleet Alex righted, he just jumped right back in the race, and it was as if the episode took nothing out of him. He won drawing away by 4 ¾ lengths, and it was another five lengths back to Giacomo.

After a mile in 1:36.04, Afleet Alex completed the 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.04. He paid $8.60, $5, and $3.20, while Scrappy T returned $11.20 and $5.80. Giacomo paid $4.80 to show.

The complete order of finish was: Afleet Alex, Scrappy T, Giacomo, Sun King, High Limit, Noble Causeway, Greeley's Galaxy, Malibu Moonshine, Closing Argument, High Fly, Hal's Image, Wilko, Galloping Grocer, and Going Wild.

"Jeremy has absolute, complete confidence in this horse," winning trainer Tim Ritchey said. "He thinks his horse is from the planet Krypton. He thinks he's 'Superhorse'."

"Over 30 years, I've seen some horses take some bad steps in races and still win," Ritchey said. "I've never seen a horse stumble that badly and lose his momentum that much to come back on and win in a grade I race like this."

There are several key stories to Afleet Alex. One is that he has been connected to Alex's Lemonade Stand, which raises money for juvenile cancer research and has been one of the heartwarming stories of this Triple Crown season.

The other is that Ritchey has sent Afleet Alex to the track twice each morning, a very unorthodox style.

"Believe me, it's the horse," he said. "Horses make trainers, trainers don't make horses. He's the star. I was fortunate enough to come across this horse. He did something that champions do today."

Afleet Alex was the first horse to arrive at Pimlico and, obviously, he thrived on the local surface and with the amount of training he received. He was full of run throughout the Preakness.

It was a very good betting race. Afleet Alex was the favorite, but at 3-1. There were five betting interests at less than 10-1, and the longest price in the field was 27-1.

The attendance was announced as a record on-track crowd of 115,318. The day prior to the Preakness was a nasty weather day with wind and rain but Preakness day was sunny and mild. The previous record was the 112,668 that watched Smarty Jones romp last year.

This was the first classic win for any of the connections of Afleet Alex, and first Preakness starter for any of them. The Cash is King Stable is headed by Chuck Zacney, who is the founder and president of The Sirrus Group, a regional medical billing company based in Norristown, Pa.

The other members of Cash is King Stable are Robert Brittingham, Joseph Lerro, Joseph Judge, and Jan Reeves.

Afleet Alex is a great advertisement for the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale, which is held every year the week following the Preakness, just about 10 miles from the racetrack. He was purchased at that sale two years ago for $75,000 and became the first horse under the Cash is King banner. The group now owns seven horses.

It is reminiscent of two years ago, when Derby/Preakness winner Funny Cide was the first horse owned by the Sackatoga partnership group headed by Jack Knowlton.

By Northern Afleet  out of the Hawkster mare Maggy Hawk, Afleet Alex was bred in Florida by John Martin Silvertand.

Ritchey resides in Newark, Del., but races in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, while wintering in Arkansas.

Rose, just 26 years old, also is a regular on the Midlantic circuit and resides in Center Hall, Pa. He won the Eclipse Award as the nation's top apprentice in 2001.

Rose has ridden Afleet Alex in all but one of his 11 starts, replaced by John Velazquez in the Rebel Stakes (gr. III), in which the horse finished last of six. Following the race, he was diagnosed with a lung infection and came back under Rose to win the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) by a widening eight lengths.

Afleet Alex was a top 2-year-old last year when he won four of six starts and became a grade I winner, taking the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. He closed his juvenile campaign by running second, beaten a half-length, in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and third, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).

Now, Afleet Alex has won seven of 11 starts, with two seconds, and a third. The victory put his career earnings at $2,165,800.

(Chart, Equibase)