Trainer Tim Ritchey walks Afleet Alex around a field after arriving at Pimlico Race Course Wednesday.

Trainer Tim Ritchey walks Afleet Alex around a field after arriving at Pimlico Race Course Wednesday.

AP/Matthew S. Gunby

Giacomo Hits Track; Alex Arrives at Pimlico

(from Churchill, Pimlico track notes)
After three days of mild exercise in the barn, Jerry and Ann Moss' Giacomo, the surprise winner of the 131st Kentucky Derby (gr. I), returned to the Churchill Downs track Wednesday for the first time since his stunning victory.

Several hours later, Afleet Alex, the likely Preakness Stakes (gr. I) favorite, settled in at Pimlico after traveling by van from Kentucky for nearly 13 hours. He became the first contender on the grounds for the Preakness.

Trainer John Shirreffs flew back from his base at Hollywood Park to accompany the 3-year-old son of Holy Bull on a pony as the colt galloped a mile. Jockey Mike Smith watched from an observation stand along the backstretch of the historic track.

"I thought he did very well for his first day on the track," said Shirreffs. "He's eaten up and it doesn't look like he dropped too much weight from the Derby, so I think we're in good shape."

Shirreffs, who won the "Run for the Roses" in his first attempt, said he would play it by ear in determining a training schedule for Giacomo over the next few days. The colt is scheduled to board a flight to Baltimore for the Preakness (gr. I), the second jewel of the Visa Triple Crown, on May 18.

"I think you have to wait and see," he said. "The Preakness comes up quickly in two weeks, so we'll have to let the horse dictate what kind of training he's going to get."

The Derby winning trainer said that Giacomo could train up to the May 21 Preakness without a workout, but Shirreffs will let the horse determine that.

"It's too early to say that," he said. "I would prefer not to breeze – that would be my first preference. But he may get a two-minute clip or something. Who knows? It's hard to say. It's only his first day back on the track, and we'll see how things go. Today's really humid, so we'll have to be careful about fluids and a lot of little things."

Shirreffs had trained Giacomo through the rain-soaked winter in California with the Kentucky Derby as the colt's goal. But the trainer's post-Derby plan is not so certain.

"I didn't know there was anything after the Derby," said a smiling Shirreffs. "We were pretty focused on the Derby and suddenly, what? Two weeks later?"

The 59-year-old Shirreffs said that his life had been a whirl since his Derby win.

"First of all, Derby Day was unbelievable," said Shirreffs. "You don't realize how many people are affected by it. Obviously, there's my family and close friends and people I've worked with a long time ago have been calling and congratulating me. So, it has a real ripple effect."

Alex Arrives First
Afleet Alex settled into the Pimlico stakes barn at 5:50 p.m.

"He's in his stall right now, just having a little light dinner," said trainer Tim Ritchey. "Once we get everything set up tomorrow, it will be back to work for him. He came out of the Derby in great shape. He was tired just after the race, but one hour later he had recouped very well. He was back to his playful self, eating peppermints and tossing his ball around. He ate like a truck driver."

Ritchey opted to send Afleet Alex straight to Pimlico instead of heading back to Delaware Park, where the rest of his horses are stabled. Looking for every edge he can get for the Derby third place finisher, Ritchey will have the probable Preakness favorite jog at Old Hilltop at 6 a.m. tomorrow.

"I was a little amazed at the pre-Derby betting," added Ritchey, who will turn 54 years old on Preakness day. "A day before the race, he was the favorite. I thought he'd be second or third choice. (Being the favorite) is what you strive for. If you're the favorite, you're going to win 33% of the time. If he's the favorite for the Preakness, hopefully, he shows up like he has been and he won't let the bettors down."

Ritchey saddled Marciano to a seventh place finish in the 2001 Preakness.