- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

BALTIMORE — It was the “Immaculate Recovery” — a fleeting moment of terror destined to rank among racing’s greatest moments.

“That will be like the ABC [Wide World of Sports intro] with the skier coming down the slope and coming off [the ramp],” said Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey, yesterday. “You’ll probably see this replay for the next 10 years, if not longer. It was almost the agony of defeat and then the thrill of victory again.”

Afleet Alex recovered from a potentially fatal stretch collision with Scrappy T to win the 130th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Saturday. It has been quickly dubbed racing’s newest legend. The similar Alysheba-Bet Twice brushing in the 1987 Kentucky Derby was a kiss comparatively. Afleet Alex was inches from falling with 12 horses close behind.

Racing escaped its worst on-track mishap since Go for Wand’s fatal fall in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. It would have rivaled Ruffian’s 1975 match-race death as the sport’s ugliest moment. The Preakness favorite and jockey Jeremy Rose’s chance of survival would have been marginal, but Afleet Alex managed to quickly right himself after clicking heels with Scrappy T when the latter unexpectedly veered out at the top of the lane.

“It could have an absolute total disaster,” Ritchey said. “For [Afleet Alex] to get up and just be OK was amazing, but to gather himself together and win the race was phenomenal. We were obviously meant to win this race even though we had a stumbling block, and that was a real stumbling.”

Ritchey yesterday said the colt’s recovery reminded him of his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers’ 1972 playoff victory over Oakland when Franco Harris scored on a deflected pass.

“There you go, the Immaculate Reception. What do you call this — the Immaculate Recovery?” Ritchey said. “[Afleet Alex is] probably Lynn Swann, some of those moves he used to make catching the ball.”

Afleet Alex suffered only a minor scrape and showed no carryover stress from the incident. He played with the ball in his stall, ate two dozen peppermints and twice stood attentively with his owners and trainer for television interviews — a rare act of tameness among normally high-strung thoroughbreds. Trainers Nick Zito and D. Wayne Lukas both remarked how calm the colt has been around the stakes barn.

“I’ve never seen him get upset about anything,” Ritchey said. “I’ve never seen him shy or spook from anything he’s been exposed to. He’s ‘Mr. Laid Back.’”

Afleet Alex won’t van to New York until Friday as Ritchey watches for soreness in coming days. The 137th Belmont Stakes field on June11 may be small. Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo is the only other expected Preakness runner after finishing third.

At least four non-Preakness starters will enter the Belmont — Buzzards Bay, Andromeda’s Hero, Southern Africa and Shamoan. Southern Africa and Shamoan ran one-two respectively in the Lone Star Derby on May14. Lukas is considering A.P. Arrow while Zito could bring Pinpoint.

Afleet Alex may later enter the Haskell Stakes, Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and a grass race, but a Belmont victory would give him an early edge for 3-year-old of the year honors. Certainly, beating Giacomo again would clearly separate the two for voters.

“In my own mind, I know who the best horse is,” Ritchey said.

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