At Belmont, Afleet Alex Is Blazing

By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 12, 2005

ELMONT, N.Y., June 11 -- The rubber match turned out to be nothing but a mismatch.

Displaying the same explosive burst of speed he showed three weeks ago in the Preakness Stakes, Afleet Alex angled off the rail on the far turn and blew past Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo with astonishing ease, galloping down the stretch to win the 137th Belmont Stakes by seven lengths.

Unlike the Preakness, however, in which Afleet Alex avoided a catastrophic fall after colliding with Scrappy T, there was no added drama, just a victory realized with numbing authority.

The colt, who has now won stakes races from six furlongs to 1 1/2 miles, showed that neither added distance nor a demanding racing schedule could wear him down. The final time of 2 minutes 28.75 seconds for the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont was nothing special, but Afleet Alex ripped through the final quarter-mile in a blazing 24.50 seconds -- the fastest final Belmont quarter since 1969, faster even than Secretariat.

With definitive victories in the final two legs of racing's Triple Crown, Afleet Alex's one-length loss in Kentucky on May 7 suddenly looms terribly large as he is added to a steadily growing list of 3-year-olds who came tantalizingly close to joining the 11 immortal winners of the series.

Although exultant in the immediate moments after the victory, jockey Jeremy Rose couldn't help but reflect on what might have been had Afleet Alex held on in the deep stretch of Churchill Downs to beat Giacomo and Closing Argument.

"He should be a Triple Crown winner," Rose said. "I messed up or whatever. The only reason I say he should be the Triple Crown winner is he's the best horse, the best 3-year-old in the country, and he didn't get it done. I've got to blame someone and it might as well be me."

Tim Ritchey, however, was more forgiving.

"If somebody told us in the beginning of March we were going to win two legs of the Triple Crown, we would have been ecstatic," said the trainer, who lives in Elkton, Md.

Besides Afleet Alex and Giacomo, the field assembled for the Belmont had accomplished little. The crowd of 62,274 -- nearly half the record 120,139 that showed up last year to watch Smarty Jones lose to Birdstone -- made Afleet Alex an even-money favorite, with Giacomo, who finished seventh, second choice at 5-1. No other horse was under 10-1 and none higher than 20-1, reflecting the inscrutability of the bunch.

Front-runners had performed well throughout the day on the Belmont dirt course, but Ritchey gave Rose explicit instructions not to contest the pace.

"All I said was be patient, be patient, be patient," Ritchey said. "And he did, and when he asked him, he just exploded."

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