By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, May 23, 2005
BALTIMORE, May 22 -- In the seconds after Afleet Alex pulled himself up from near certain disaster and went on to win the Preakness Stakes, the racing stewards in a room high above the Pimlico grandstand lit the inquiry sign on the infield tote board.
Although the result of the race was not in doubt, the three officials charged with enforcing the rules of racing wanted to take a second look at what had happened.
On a large desktop monitor, they watched a replay and saw jockey Ramon Dominguez wind up twice with his whip and come down hard on the left side of his mount, leader Scrappy T. Recoiling from the blow, the horse veered sharply to his right -- into the path of Afleet Alex, who was closing with a rush.
In a terrifying instant, Afleet Alex nearly went down after his left front hoof clipped Scrappy T's right rear. Traveling at top speed, the colt -- and jockey Jeremy Rose -- somehow managed to maintain footing and avoid what could have been a catastrophe in front of a record crowd of 115,318.
At no time during their review did the stewards consider fining or penalizing Dominguez for reckless riding or improper use of the whip, according to Bill Passmore, a former top jockey now working as a steward.
"We went right over and reviewed it," Passmore said. "That horse [Afleet Alex] was making a hell of a run. I saw Ramon hit his horse left-handed, and he ducked right down into the path of that horse. He was lucky the horse stayed up."
The morning after the Preakness, outside the Pimlico stakes barn, Afleet Alex's trainer, Tim Ritchey, was asked what he thought of the way Dominguez used his whip.
"My father taught me if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything, and that's my comment," Ritchey said.
Rose, however, who regularly competes against Dominguez on tracks throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, came to the defense of his fellow rider.
"I don't think Ramon did anything out of line," said Rose, whose Preakness victory was his first in a Triple Crown race. "Ramon wasn't beating on him; he just hit him one time.
"I've seen more abuse with the stick. He's not been known as a big stick jockey. I don't see that at all. It's the Preakness, and he's on the lead."
Rose said he and other jockeys jokingly call Dominguez "The Windmill" because of the roundhouse windup he employs before striking a horse. Rose believes an old shoulder injury forces Dominguez to strike down that way.
"My horse felt like he was looking around when we came into the stretch, but I wasn't expecting him to have any problems," Dominguez said after the race. "When I hit him left-handed, he didn't like it and came out unexpectedly. It completely caught me off-guard. . . . It's still hard for me to believe he did something like that."
The stewards agreed Dominguez wasn't at fault.
"He hit him one time," Passmore said. "How many horses do you hit left-handed and they don't move?"
Afleet Alex walked around the shed row Sunday morning, and Ritchey said he appeared to move comfortably. While muscle damage could show up later, the horse appeared to have suffered nothing worse than a left ankle scrape. His left hind leg, Ritchey said, clipped his front leg "whenever he had to get himself off the ground."
"Nothing serious," Ritchey said. "It just took a little hair off. We'll have to monitor him for three or four days. I'm concerned about a muscle injury because he was contorted in a way horses aren't supposed to be."
Ritchey is assuming the best and already has mapped out his schedule for Afleet Alex's assault on the final leg of the Triple Crown, the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont Stakes on June 11 in New York. He will stable at Pimlico until Friday and then ship Afleet Alex to Belmont Park. He could be galloping over the grand, sweeping racetrack for the first time as early as next Tuesday.
"It amazes me," said Ritchey, still admiring the miraculous recovery of his horse. "It's something you may never see again in horse racing."