- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

ELMONT, N.Y. — The Belmont Park stretch helped create another legend yesterday.

Afleet Alex ran the fastest final quarter-mile at the Belmont Stakes since 1969 to win the 137th running before 62,274. The 6-5 favorite quickly drew away at the top of the stretch to cover the final quarter-mile in 242/5 seconds — three-fifths of a second faster than Secretariat’s legendary 1973 stretch run.

The seven-length margin over Andromeda’s Hero would have been greater if Afleet Alex jockey Jeremy Rose hadn’t started waving his whip to the crowd with 10 strides remaining.

“I knew nobody was going to get me,” Rose said.

Afleet Alex became the 18th Preakness Stakes-Belmont winner after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. The horse roared past Derby winner Giacomo, who faded to seventh, at the quarter-pole to take the rubber match between the classic winners, covering 1 miles in 2:283/5.

“I knew I had Giacomo,” Rose said. “It was only a question of how fast I was going to get to the lead once I asked him.”

Quickly, post-race talk turned to whether Afleet Alex should have become racing’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978. Rose said in the Derby stretch he shouldn’t have switched to a right-handed whip, which forced the colt closer to the rail where the footing was duller. Giacomo and Closing Argument passed on the far outside in the final yards as Afleet Alex finished a length back.

“I still feel responsible for that,” Rose said. “He should be a Triple Crown horse. He’s the best 3-year old in the country.”

Afleet Alex will get a brief rest before entering the Haskell Stakes, Travers Stakes and possibly the Super Derby or a turf race before returning to Belmont for the Breeders’ Cup on Oct.29. His two standout victories have made Afleet Alex the nation’s leading 3-year-old and the early favorite for horse of the year.

“He’s one of the best we’ll see in a long time,” Rose said.

Giacomo jockey Mike Smith said the colt “flipped his palate” before the race, meaning a throat muscle used to regulate breathing closed and left the colt struggling for air during the race. Giacomo led briefly on the final turn despite a slow pace that didn’t fit his late-running style.

“You could hear [the throat problem],” Smith said. “He made a roaring sound. I heard it going into the gate, and it got louder during the race.”

Trainer Tim Ritchey told Rose to wait as long as possible before sending Afleet Alex to the front. Many jockeys have made their move too soon on the 1-mile track, and Rose was ordered to avoid the type of early speed duel that cost Smarty Jones the Triple Crown last year.

“All I kept saying was, be patient, be patient, be patient,” Ritchey said. “Wait, wait, wait. With these big, wide turns, you have to save all the ground you can.”

Rose was forced to urge Afleet Alex sooner than he wanted when A.P. Arrow suddenly slowed in front of him midway through the final turn. However, Rose again rode masterfully, weaving Afleet Alex between horses before heading outside leaving the turn. This time, there was no near collision like the one that nearly cost Afleet Alex the Preakness, and he quickly separated from the field. The race was over with 3/16 of a mile remaining.

“I knew that if I didn’t do something stupid, he was going to win this race,” Rose said. “He’s just that good.”

Trainer Nick Zito finally hit the board after entering 11 horses in the three spring classics when Andromeda’s Hero was second over maiden Nolan’s Cat.

“I was trying to stay close to Afleet Alex,” Andromeda’s Hero jockey Rafael Bejarano said, “but he just ran away.”’

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