- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2005

BALTIMORE — Afleet Alex arose from a near-death experience to win the 130th Preakness Stakes yesterday.

Afleet Alex was nearly sent sprawling at the top of the stretch after he collided with Scrappy T, his knees hitting the dirt. A fall might have been fatal for the colt and jockey Jeremy Rose given 12 horses were close behind.

Afleet Alex not only survived, he thrived. He put away Scrappy T by the sixteenth pole to win by 43/4 lengths before a record 115,318 at Pimlico Race Course. The scene was eerily similar to Alysheba’s 1987 Kentucky Derby victory after he collided with Bet Twice entering the stretch.

“I thought for sure we were going to [fall],” Rose said. “I was just that scared. He picked himself right up and from that point on I knew we had it won. He put all doubters to shame right there.”

Afleet Alex became the fifth straight favorite to win the Preakness, paying $8.60. He covered 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.04, three-fifths second faster than Smarty Jones last year and the best time since 1998. The winning margin could have been doubled without the collision, said Rose.

“Double whatever [it was], it should have been 10,” Rose said. “We were rolling, we were rolling real fast.”

Trainer Tim Ritchey said Afleet Alex will enter the Belmont Stakes on June11. It will be the first time since 2001 that the Triple Crown will not be on the line. Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo’s plans are uncertain after finishing third.

Bettors were lukewarm to Giacomo after his 50-1 Derby upset. He fell to third choice in the final minute before yesterday’s post time at 6-1. Still, trainer John Sherriffs felt that third vindicated the colt whose Derby victory was rated a fluke by skeptics.

“I don’t think there was any embarrassment running third in the Preakness,” Sherriffs said. “The horse doesn’t accelerate real well and he had trouble getting to the opening.”

Said Giacomo jockey Mike Smith: “My horse ran dynamite, but I had to idle a very long way and that really hurts you in this type of race. I’m sure he’ll come back strong in his next race.”

Like the Derby, many top contenders ran poorly. Second choice High Fly (5-1) finished 10th as trainer Nick Zito’s best finish among three entrants was Noble Causeway’s sixth. Derby runner-up Closing Argument (7-1) was a distant ninth. Greeley’s Galaxy (9-1) was seventh.

Two long shots among the top four finishers didn’t create any record payoffs like the Derby. The superfecta paid $10,362 for the top four finishers compared to the Derby’s $1.7million. The $152 exacta was less than 2 percent of its Derby counterpart.

A more reasonable pace than the Derby’s fifth fastest opening three-quarters mile probably cost Giacomo any chance, though he was able to pass seven horses entering the final turn. The Preakness field ran the opening half mile in 46 seconds, four lengths slower than the Derby. Long shots High Limit and Going Wild led as expected, but Afleet Alex and Giacomo weren’t far behind.

The race began in earnest entering the final turn as jockeys suddenly urged their mounts. Scrappy T put away High Limit and looked strong entering the stretch before suddenly veering out when jockey Ramon Dominguez hit him left-handed so the colt would stop watching the infield crowd. Scrappy T bolted directly in front of Afleet Alex, who was trying to go outside.

It was a scary moment, but Rose showed his prowess as a former high school wrestler to keep Afleet Alex focused and regain his stride after several bad steps.

“[Afleet Alex] was probably a little scared to hit the ground,” Rose said. “I don’t know if any horse has stayed up getting that close to the ground.”

Neither jockey stopped riding. They would let the stewards sort out the infraction later if needed. No penalties were assessed against Scrappy T because Afleet Alex won, though officials can suspend Dominguez if they decide after reviewing film that he was careless.

“I’m glad nothing bad happened,” said Dominguez, who has dominated the Maryland circuit the past five years since arriving from Venezuela. “I’m sorry for the incident. [Scrappy T] was looking around some and I hit him left-handed and it caught him off-guard.”

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