Sunday, October 15, 2017

Afleet Alex - The Underrated Race Horse

I was fortunate to see Afleet Alex at Gainesway earlier this month and like most people are thinking, his name was familiar, but that's all I could recall about him.  The sad truth is that Afleet Alex's name should be remembered in the same breath as Seattle Slew, Affirmed and other great race horses.  He should have won the Triple Crown in 2005 and the two races he won - the Belmont and the Preakness - were won in such extraordinary fashion, that his story should be told again and remembered.  What could have been......

Afleet Alex is no slouch.  He was the top 3-year-old male and won an Eclipse Award in 2005. He won eight of his twelve starts including six G1 wins and brought home $2.7M in earnings, not bad for a horse that was bought for $75,000 at the lesser known Timonium, MD sales.

He lost the 2005 Derby to a 50-1 shot, Giacomo.  But he came back to win the Preakness a few weeks later.  He won the Belmont by an astounding seven lengths, running the fastest quarter mile in over 35 years, faster than even Secretariat.  

The 2005 Derby was a fluke.  It was a star-studded field full of talent in 2005 with many good horses and Afleet Alex finished a disappointing third to Giacomo, a 50-1 long-shot ridden by star jockey, Mike Smith.  In second place came 71-1 shot, Closing Argument. But neither the trainer, Tim Ritchey, or the jockey, Jeremy Rose, had ever raced in the Derby.  Tim Ritchey had never even raced a horse at Churchill Downs.  What might have happened if Afleet Alex had a Bob Baffert or a Nick Zito behind the scenes?  What if the horse had been ridden by a Jerry Bailey or a Mike Smith who knew the race and the track?  I'm not discounting the training or the riding the horse received, but knowledge is power and experience does count in horse racing.  What might have happened?

But the horse's performance in the Preakness will most certainly go down as one of the greatest feats in horse racing. In fact, Sports Illustrated voted his performance the best sports performance of the year, for any sport. During the race, Scrappy T blew out the turn at the top of the stretch and Afleet Alex almost fell to the ground.  It is amazing that the horse did not go down.  Somehow this athletic stallion of 16 hands managed to stay up. Not only did he stay up, he won the race, which makes it more astounding.  This is a very short race, often won by fractions of a second.  You can see the video of the race here, and it is certainly worth watching.  The horse came out of the race with only a few scratches at first.
The Belmont was next and the concern is always the length of the race and ability of the horses to run this distance after running in the Derby and the Preakness. Afleet Alex had what his jockey termed "the perfect trip.” He ran the final quarter mile in 24.5 seconds, even faster than Secretariat's 1973 run and won the race by seven lengths. He made it look easy. You can see that race here.

Afleet Alex was going to keep racing, that was the plan.  He would  go to the Haskell, the Travers at Saratoga, and the Louisiana Derby, before heading to the Breeders’ Cup.  But following the Belmont, he suffered a hairline fracture that was believed to be from his rocky trip in the Preakness. The hairline condylar fracture in his left-front leg, at the bottom of the cannon bone, ended all the plans. Surgery was performed the following day and he was expected to miss his next two starts.  But then a new injury was discovered before the horse was shipped to Gulfsteam Park and it would be another six to eight month lay-off for him so the decision was made to retire him.  He was sent to Gainesway in 2006 and his stud fee was set at $40,000. 

The handlers at Gainesway commented on Alex's brain and how smart he is and how easy he is to work with. His laid-back demeanor came shining through.  It's ironic to me that a horse named Scrappy T almost brought Afleet Alex down. Afleet Alex had a scrappy side to him - that will to win no matter what it takes .  That part of him came shining through in the Preakness. It's a shame he could not race on.   I think he would have won the Breeder's Cup and maybe the Haiskell and the Travers that year.  We'll never know...  Please see this video about his career.

1 comment:

  1. The two things I'll always remember about Afleet Alex was his connection to Alex's Lemonade Stand, a fundraising effort of a little girl named Alexandra Scott who had neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer. When she was 4 years old, in 2000, young Alex wanted to raise money to help find a cure for her cancer and for other children afflicted by it, so she launched a grass-roots effort through her lemonade stand in the front yard in her home in Manchester, CT. She had set a goal of raising $1 million. Sadly, Alex passed away at the age of 8 in August 2004, but a phone call to her parents several months later from the owners of Afleet Alex changed everything thereafter. The owners had been donating anonymously to Alex's cause, and when Afleet Alex began to emerge as a serious Triple Crown contender in 2005, they asked for permission to make their support public with the hope that it would help boost the fundraising efforts that little Alex had started. Alex's parents agreed and it gave rise to their decision to launch the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation as a nonprofit organization to support efforts to end all childhood cancers. I recall seeing and reading media coverage about the lemonade stand's fundraising mission and Alex's Lemonade Stands kiosts were hosted at each of the three Triple Crown races when Afleet Alex ran. They got tremendous media exposure, thanks, in part, to the horse's impressive efforts, running third in the KY Derby and winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

    In the 17 years since Alex set up her first lemonade stand at her home, the Foundation has raised more than $150 million...spurred on significantly in 2005 by the extensive media coverage that Afleet Alex helped to generate.

    The other thing I recall about Afleet Alex was that his trainer Tim Ritchie, then in his early 50s, previously had had a significant career as an all-around rider of hunters, jumpers and three-day eventer and was considered for the US team in eventing before the horse he'd been riding was sold. I think that kind of deep equestrian background can often result in training programs that maximize a horse's potential. (Former US Olympic show jumping rider Michael Matz's Kentucky Derby success with Barbaro the following year is another example.)


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