Admiral Alex might be a long shot in Travers, but don't tell his trainer
Wednesday, August 25, 2010; 8:55 PM
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.
One of the most talked-about horses at Saratoga this summer was a 3-year-old who had not yet run in a single race. On the day he was entered, analyst Andy Serling told his audience on the track's pre-race television show: "If you haven't heard a tip on Admiral Alex in the second race, you must be in a coma."
The source of such rumors is often a mystery, but in this case veteran racegoers could guess where the information originated. Leon Blusiewicz, the owner and trainer of Admiral Alex, is a man who loves to cash a bet, particularly on one of his own horses. And while such gamblers are usually tight-lipped, Blusiewicz loves to talk, particularly about his own horses. If he has a good young prospect in his barn, Blusiewicz is apt to buttonhole every casual acquaintance and announce that he's getting ready to run the fastest horse in the world.
The 78-year-old Marylander had entered Admiral Alex to make his debut at the challenging distance of 11/8 miles, against a group of maidens who were exceptionally well-bred, even by Saratoga standards. Two members of the field had sold at auction for more than $1 million. Yet in the face of this opposition, Blusiewicz's colt - 10 to 1 in the morning line - was bet down to 5 to 2. The whole world evidently had heard the tip.
Unlike so much supposed inside information at the racetrack, the buzz about Admiral Alex turned out to be accurate. After racing wide all the way, he won by a length in a solid performance. And it was a reminder that the trainer - no matter how eccentric he may sometimes appear - still knows how to develop a fast young horse.
But in the aftermath of Admiral Alex's July 31 win, the racing community was wondering whether Blusiewicz's habitual enthusiasm for his horses had turned into irrational exuberance. The trainer promptly announced that the colt would make his next start in Saratoga's most famous race, the $1 million Travers Stakes. Wednesday he made that decision official, entering Admiral Alex in Saturday's race against 10 seasoned rivals that include Super Saver and Ice Box, the 1-2 finishers in the Kentucky Derby.
Younger racing fans probably did not know Blusiewicz's name when Admiral Alex won his debut, but the trainer has been a colorful figure in the sport since the early 1980s. He grew up in Baltimore, left home at the age of 16 and got a job as a seaman on a ship bound for South America. When he returned to Maryland some years later, he went to work as a groom at the racetrack. As soon as he accumulated a modest bankroll, he bought a horse for $5,000, cashed a bet on him and decided to become a trainer.
He had some high-profile successes, but since the mid-90s he has been practically out of business unless he put up his own money to buy a horse.
Blusiewicz and a partner own a mare named Madam Lagonza, who - as Blusiewicz tells it - might have been the fastest filly in the world if a freak accident hadn't prevented her from running. The partners breed the mare and sell her foals, and in 2008 made a private deal to sell her yearling colt by the stallion Afleet Alex. According to Blusiewicz, "The guy who bought him ran into financial difficulties. So I borrowed money and bought the colt back. I knew the mare was a freak, and she was going to throw a great horse."
"This colt did things as a 2-year-old that were brilliant," Blusiewicz said. When an injury sidelined Admiral Alex in the fall, the trainer gave him time to recuperate and then put him back in training at Saratoga in May. Even then he was thinking about the Travers.
He picked the 11/8-mile maiden race as a preparation for the Travers' 11/4 miles, and told himself that the colt had to run "1:49 and change" to merit entry in the Travers. Admiral Alex rewarded Blusiewicz doubly. The trainer cashed his bets-"I had the exacta and I had the double good," he said - and Admiral Alex covered the distance in 1:49.76, fast enough to let Blusiewicz take his shot at a $1 million purse.
Unfortunately, this saga likely won't unfold as a happy rags-to-riches story. Based on that time of 1:49.76, Admiral Alex isn't fast enough to be a contender in the Travers. Moreover, thrusting young horses into competition too tough for them is one of the surest ways to compromise their futures. The experience can hurt them physically or, at the very least, undermine their self-confidence.
But nothing will quell Blusiewicz's optimism. "When I ran Snow Plow in the Selima," he recalled, "everybody told me 'You're crazy!" But I bet on her real good and she galloped. If Admiral Alex was just another horse, I wouldn't run him. But I'm confident in him. And I'll get 20 to 1!"