With three victories in three starts, and a combined winning margin of 28 1/2 lengths, Afleet Alex heads into Saturday's Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) with great promise. Offers to purchase the colt have been pouring in to trainer Tim Ritchey and owner Chuck Zackney, who races under the name Cash is King Stable.
But according to Ritchey, cash is not king to Zackney, who has turned down all offers for the son of Northern Afleet
"The phones ring every day, but he's not for sale," Ritchey said during a national teleconference Tuesday. "I've discussed that with the owner, and he said it would be more meaningful for him to enjoy the ride and have a really good horse, which is what he got in the business for, than for any financial gains. Hopefully, they'll come along as well."
In his three starts, Afleet Alex broke his maiden by 11 1/4 lengths at Delaware Park, where Ritchey is based, then followed that up with a 12-length romp in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race in the slop. Ritchey then sent him to Saratoga for the Sanford Stakes (gr. II) on July 29, and Afleet Alex circled horses with an explosive move on the turn before drawing off to a 5 1/4-length victory in a sizzling 1:09 1/5.
Afleet Alex has proven a bargain already, having been purchased at this year's Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic sale at Timonium for $75,000.
"He fit all the criteria I look for in a horse at a 2-year-old sale," Ritchey said. "I have no idea why he only sold for $75,000. He had been nominated to one of the (Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.) sales, but whether he was immature or sick I dont really know. I just know he wasn't ready for that sale. He worked in :22 2/5, which wasn't very fast compared to all the horses who worked in under :22. But it was the way he did it that impressed me. The rider didn't carry a stick, just sat on him the entire work, and when he stood up past the wire and let the horse gallop out three-eighths, he looked even better than when he was working. After going back and looking at his comformation, I really liked him a lot."
Although the purchase price seems low, it actually could have been a lot lower. "If one other person hadn't been there, he may have been sold for $25,000 or $30,000," Ritchey said. "It was only myself and one other person about 10 feet down the aisle who bid on the horse. The price we had in mind was right around $75,000. We probably would have gone higher, but $75,000 or under was our price range, and we hit it right on that number.
"When I first purchased him, I thought he was a nice horse. After his first work, I thought he was better than I expected, and his second work was even better. But it was in his first race that he really blossomed."
Although Afleet Alex is a full-bother to sprinter/miler Unforgettable Max, Ritchey believes distance will not be a question.
"He trains like a horse who will go a distance of ground," Ritchey said. "I really think he'll get a distance, but the proof is in the pudding. In his races, I just tell Jeremy (Rose) to try to keep him out of trouble and let him find a spot where he can make his run. He relaxes quite well in the early part of a race, which indicates he'll go farther."
As for his short- and long-term goals, Ritchey has two races for sure in mind for this year, but hasn't given much thought yet to the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
"As of now, our program is the Hopeful and the Champagne (gr. I)," Ritchey said. "After that, we'll just play it by ear. The Breeders' Cup is a possibility, but it all depends on how he runs and how he comes out of his next two races. I'll have to analyze everything. Having a great 2-year-old is wonderful, but our main goal is to have a top 3-year-old."
Zackney, who is in real interest and has other business interests, is a new client for Ritchey. "He raced horses at Fair Grounds for four or five years, but wasn't very successful," Ritchey said. "He got out of the business, but was still infatuated with the industry, with its thrills and ups and downs. He contacted me, we had dinner and hit it off."
Ritchey, who is 53 and has been training for 30 years, also introduced an up-and-comer in the 3-year-old division when his colt, Separato, blew away a classy field in the Larry Riviello President's Cup at Philadelphia Park Aug. 14, which was a prep for the Pennslyvania Derby (Gr. II). Separato, a son of Victory Gallop
owned by Zackney's CJZ Racing Stable, has now won three straight while moving up the claiming ranks.