For the first time since avoiding a disastrous fall in the stretch and recovering to win the Preakness Stakes, Afleet Alex went back to the track yesterday for a serious workout.
With jockey Jeremy Rose on the horse's back, also for the first time since the Preakness, Afleet Alex warmed up by jogging a mile clockwise, then turned around and opened up for five furlongs timed in 1 minute 13/5 seconds.
Both Rose and trainer Tim Ritchey pronounced the horse ready for his rubber match with Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo in the Belmont Stakes on June 11 in New York.
"Perfect," Rose said after the ride. "It always is for him; I don't know why. He goes slow and finishes up fast."
Ritchey said Afleet Alex showed no ill effects from having nearly pitched to the ground after clipping heels with Scrappy T in the Preakness on May 21.
Ritchey had hoped to ship Afleet Alex to Belmont early to get the colt acclimated to the huge Belmont track and prepare for the demanding 11/2-mile race. He was first to arrive at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, but plans changed when Belmont officials reported last week a possible case of the highly contagious respiratory illness called "strangles" in a horse.
Belmont immediately quarantined Barn 60, where the horse, Lady Libby, was based, but Ritchey played it safe and kept Afleet Alex in the Pimlico barn.
"It is quiet and we can train how we want to here," said Ritchey, who plans to take the horse to New York on Saturday. "I didn't want to put his health at risk. I'm never going to do that. We wouldn't be averse to not racing at Belmont" if the illness remained an issue.
All horses based in Barn 60 tested negative for strangles this week, New York Racing Association Senior Vice President Bill Nader said.
Still, Belmont has set aside Barn 14 for horses, including Afleet Alex, shipping in to run the Belmont Stakes.
"It's been power-washed, disinfected, painted and turned into a total bio-secure environment," Nader said. "I think we're in pretty good shape here."
-- John Scheinman