- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

ELMONT, N.Y. — Despite missing out on the Triple Crown, Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey appears willing to try anything for his colt to win horse of the year.

The Preakness-Belmont winner will head for two traditional summer blockbusters, the Haskell and Travers. However, the horse also may enter a grass race or even the Super Derby in New Orleans, which few major horses choose over New York or California fall races. Ritchey even will consider Breeders’ Cup turf or sprint races over the Classic if fellow horse of the year contender Ghostzapper looks too menacing.

Afleet Alex may be racing’s best horse since Spectacular Bid (1979), and Ritchey wants to prove it.

“You’ve got a horse that can do just about anything,” Ritchey said. “He’s an iron horse. He’s performing better and better and better every time. The races he’s been through, for him to run like he did in the Preakness and then come back and run this kind of race in the Belmont, I think that shows he’s a very special horse.”

Afleet Alex won the Preakness after a collision nearly knocked him to the ground. He took the Belmont with the fastest closing quarter-mile in 36 years — three-fifths of a second faster than Secretariat’s famed 1973 runaway. Jockey Jeremy Rose took the blame for a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby when he kept the horse along the dull path near the rail and was passed in the final yards. However, that’s probably more of a case of a rider protecting a colt’s reputation at the unfair expense of his own. Rose’s ride was fine; the loss was fair.

Still, Afleet Alex could help fans forget the recent post-Triple Crown failures of Smarty Jones and Funny Cide. The colt will race through 2006 before being sent to the breeding shed. He may be small, but Afleet Alex’s big stretch moves decimated a once strong class of 3-year-old colts.

The division is deep but troubled. Giacomo is sidelined indefinitely with a throat injury, and his Derby victory now can be rated a fluke. However, Bellamy Road should return from a shin injury for the Travers. Bandini and Scrappy T are contenders but are staying away from Afleet Alex until the Breeders’ Cup.

“He’s a freak of nature,” Rose said. “He’s made out of steel. An amazing animal.”

Afleet Alex is a throwback to early 20th-century runners, which were known for durability. The colt trains twice each morning in an era when many horses barely see the track once. Excepting an infection that led to a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby, he has never raced badly, winning eight of 12 races with two seconds and one third for earnings of $2.76million.

And like many standout horses, Afleet Alex seems to know it. Cigar and John Henry often stared at the tote board before races as if they were checking out the odds. Secretariat and Alysheba would look at photographers. Afleet Alex plays with a ball in his stall and even held a baseball and a glove in his mouth when posing for pictures last week.

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