Hopeful winner Afleet Alex will have the services of jockey John Velazquez in 2005.

Hopeful winner Afleet Alex will have the services of jockey John Velazquez in 2005.

AP/NYRA Adam Coglianese

Velazquez to Ride Afleet Alex in Derby Quest

Leading rider John Velazquez has been named to replace Jeremy Rose aboard Cash is King's Afleet Alex, a candidate for an Eclipse Award as top 2-year-old male, in his quest for the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

"We feel we have the best 2-year-old in the country," said Tim Ritchey, Alfeet Alex's trainer. "And we wanted to have one of the best, most experienced riders in the country for the big races."

With mounts that have earned more than $22 million, Velazquez is the leading rider in North America this year.

Delaware Park-based Ritchey said Rose, who is the main rider for the trainer, understood why the decision was being made.

"Rose was fine with it. He understands our decision. He's a very talented rider. Mileage is the only thing that gets you there. There is no doubt in my mind he will get to that level one day. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the horse, the owners, and me. The decision was made with the blessing of all."

Alfeet Alex is currently stabled at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., where he will take the same route used by trainer John Servis for Smarty Jones' successful Derby foray this year.

Afleet Alex is being pointed toward Oaklawn's $100,000 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 19, the $250,000 Rebel Stakes on March 19, and his final Kentucky Derby prep, the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16. "Our plan is to use these races as preps for the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown," said Ritchey.

"We are thrilled that they chose us," said Angel Cordero, Jr., agent for Velazquez. "We feel that Afleet Alex is the best 2-year-old in the country right now. It's kind of like a courtship, you know this is the one, you make a commitment, you get engaged and your plan is to walk down the isle together. The first Saturday in May is not a bad date to be walking down the isle."

Under Rose, Afleet Alex set a stakes record in winning the Sanford Stakes (gr. II) before winning the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I). The son of Northern Afleet  finished to Proud Accolade in the Champagne (gr. I) and to Wilco in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile. (gr. I).

"I still think we had the best horse in the Breeder's Cup," Ritchey said. "I think we had the trip from hell in that race. He had to use him twice."

Ritchey says Alex is by far the best horse he has ever trained.

"He is intelligent beyond his years," the trainer said. "He is a pleasure to work with and a total people horse."

Due to his dam's inability to feed him after being foaled, Afltee Alex was bottled fed and relied on people to take the place of his mother. Purchased at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May sale eof 2-year-olds in training for $75,000, Afleet Alex has earned $680,800, with four victories and two seconds from six starts.