Afleet Alex, who also captured the Sanford Stakes (gr. II) and was second in the Champagne (gr. I), is expected to meet the undefeated Rockport Harbor in the Rebel, as well as the winner of this Saturday's Southwest Stakes, headed by dual graded stakes winner Greater Good.
Cash Is King Stable's Afleet Alex, winner of the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) and runner-up in the voting for 2-year-old champion, had his first work of the year at Oaklawn Park Wednesday, drilling a sharp half in :47 flat with jockey Jeremy Rose aboard. It was the second fastest of 40 works at the distance.The son of Northern Afleet has not run or worked since his second-place finish in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Trainer Tim Ritchey said the colt is right on the schedule he had planned for him, which calls for two starts – the Rebel Stakes (gr. III) March 19 and Arkansas Derby (gr. II) April 16 prior to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).Ritchey feels Afleet Alex is already pretty fit and wasn't surprised at all by the time of the work. "You just have to know your horse," he said. "He's been galloping strongly and we've done some two-minute licks with him. The lack of works never really concerned me; he's just that kind of horse. When you ask him to do something he's going to do it. His work today was what we were expecting. He did it well within himself and wouldn't have blown out a match after he got back to the barn. He's just a natural athlete. He gets fit quickly and stays fit, and he does everything pretty easily."Ritchey said he doesn't understand why some people feel the colt is behind schedule. "We've never been off our schedule," he said. "I don't know why everyone's been panicking. I know people have their opinion, but this was the plan we had all along. I just wanted to make sure he matured and grew up. "I've got a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C, and it's just going to depend what falls in place. Right now, I'm on Plan A, which is to give him three more works and then run in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. I don't have a problem with two races. If I can get a third one into him I will, but two is plenty. And I like the way they're spaced out and they way they build up to a mile and a quarter." Ritchey answered those who question Afleet Alex's ability to go 1 1/4 miles. Afterall, his broodmare sire, Hawkster, set a world-record for 1 1/2 miles in the Oak Tree Invitational (gr. IT), and his maternal great-grandsire, Hawaii, set a course record for 1 1/2 miles at Belmont in the Man o'War Stakes."Just look at his bottom line," Ritchey said. "It's all distance. And to me, horses get more of their stamina from the bottom side than they do from the top side. Even on his top side, his sire is out of a Nureyev mare and won at a mile and an eighth. I've always wondered why people say he has a sprinter's pedigree."