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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Awesome Alex

- Afleet Alex’s incredible, indelible, and indisputable whoosh down the Belmont stretch, finishing with the fastest final quarter the race has seen since Arts and Letters in 1969, propels him firmly into racing immortality. For Jeremy Rose, who again performed flawlessly, demonstrating confidence and supreme patience where far more experienced riders have failed, his immediate afterthoughts turned to what could have been. "He should be a Triple Crown winner, but I messed up or whatever.” [NY Times] It’s ironic that the horse's dominance and the rider's perfection in the Preakness and Belmont will only focus more attention on that one length he was short at Churchill.

The jockey says blame him. "I still feel responsible for that," he was saying yesterday.

When he and Alex came off the final turn at Churchill Downs, Rose whipped the horse righthanded and then switched the whip to his left hand. Hit him again. And moved the whip back to his right hand for one more whack.

"Maybe I shoulda' stayed lefthanded," he says now. Reacting to right-handed punishment, the horse, Rose said, "drifted down to the rail and the rail was kind of dead. It may have cost him second. It may have cost him the race. I don't know. But I still feel responsible for that. Obviously he's the best 3-year-old in the country so he shoulda won it." [NY Daily News]
But this is instead a time to celebrate a dynamic little racehorse who has 8 wins in 12 starts with 2 seconds and a third, with 8 of those starts graded stakes. Except for his 6th in the Rebel when he was sick, he’s never been beaten by more than a length. He’s shown his dynamic kick at 6 furlongs and at a mile and a half, dusting off the opposition with the same move and the same ease. I'm as guilty as anyone for at times having looked to a horse with a grander appearance or fancier pedigree to give our great game a boost, but it looks like we’ve had the star we’ve been looking for right under our noses all this time. Whatsmore, Tim Ritchey said: "This horse will run as a 4. Period. End of story.” [NY Daily News] No, it wasn’t a great field, as properly reflected in the final betting odds in which no one but the winner and Giacomo received any respect whatsoever, but the sight of Afleet Alex roaring down the stretch rendered that all meaningless.

"All I kept saying was, `Be patient, be patient, be patient. Wait, wait, wait,' " Ritchey said. "He just exploded. That was the plan. With these big, wide turns, you have to save all the ground you can. Jeremy Rose has now ridden three Triple Crown races like a Hall of Famer." [AP]
Indeed, as the horse finally started his move midway around the turn, Tom Durkin noted “Jeremy Rose has yet to make a move on him,” and it looks like Rose didn’t start exerting himself at all until he drew alongside Giacomo.
"I was going to wait as long as I absolutely had to. The horses in front of me started stopping. We were picking them up on Alex's cruise-control speed. I knew if I didn't do something stupid we were going to win this race."
Rose also revealed what he told the horse after the race: "I told him he's the man ....He is. He's a beast. He's a freak of nature. He's made out of steel. He came back just as good as he went in.” [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Durkin recovered from a shaky start, as he stumbled twice over “Southern Africa” early on. He exclaimed that Afleet Alex passed Giacomo “like he was standing still,” and that he was opening up “with a tremendous burst of energy” - "tremendous machine" doesn't quite apply for this little guy. Then Durkin may have become the only track announcer in history to utilize the term “plucky” to describe the winner of a classic race. A check of the thesaurus reveals these synonyms for that description: dauntless, courageous, undaunted, brave, spirited, spunky, stouthearted. Yeah, I guess that’s about right.

- It was a fantastic day at Belmont, though it’s unfortunate that the crowd of 62.574 was well below NYRA’s hoped-for 75,000. It actually got off to a bad start for NYRA, at least at the gate I came through. My cooler was searched for alcohol no less than three times, but I could have had a still in my bag and nobody would have known. It didn’t take that much creativity to bring spirits in, and I was treated to some most excellent bourbon myself. There was also an early snafu as all reserved seat ticket holders were directed to a line for a single admission booth as several cash entry booths had no wait at all. Thus, people who paid inflated prices for seats with prepaid admission, had to wait on a line in the heat. I must have stood there for ten minutes before I realized that I could just use my owners pass and walk right in. I was off to a bad start on the day.

But it was a great day. 62,274 is still a huge crowd for Belmont, but there was plenty of room in the backyard, and only before one race did I notice cumbersome betting lines. I didn’t hear any complaints about long food or bathroom lines (several mens’ rooms were converted to womens’ rooms to add some potty parity), and there was beer, beer, beer available everywhere but the bathrooms, first aid, and the track chaplain's office, giving the big lie to their crap about responsible drinking. I went down to the paddock just a few minutes before riders up for the Belmont and though it was crowded, I had no problem getting down to the 3rd step up for a great view. It's funny how so many people at the track, even more regular types, are just oblivious to the horses themselves. The Head Chef, who joined me there by train during the day as there was no way she was leaving at 10:30 as I did, commented that Afleet Alex looked “exhausted” and his relatively puny stature was noted by all. She went with Andromeda’s Hero, and was angry at me afterwards for not previously telling her about betting to place.

Pesonally, I couldn’t have had a better time. It’s always great to see the sport when it’s alive the way it is on big race days, and I just love that little cheer that goes up every time a race goes off. I had a great seat a bit inside the 1/8th pole and was glad I was able to situate the Head Chef and her friend in a spot from where they too were able to witness the unforgettable sight of a pretty amazing thoroughbred parading alone to the cheers of the crowd in the test of champions. I got to meet and to sit with a great group who were not only really nice guys but knowledgeable handicappers from whom I learned a lot in just one day, thanks. I got to meet Jessica Chapel, the proprietor of the excellent Railbird. And I had a pretty good betting day myself, hitting the 3rd exacta ($41.20), and nailing the exacta cold in the Just A Game as Sand Springs held off Intercontinental for a $35.20 payoff.

My value bet in the Belmont, Chekhov, was extremely wide on the first turn, raced in striking distance, but checked out about half way through. Before the race, I'd commented to the Head Chef that Nolan’s Cat was 17-1 (he eventually went off 20-1) and he should be 70-1. That magnified my only disappointment of the day - when he rallied from far back to take third, it cost me the triple. It also vindicated his owner Ken Ramsey’s decision to enter his maiden, which made it a bitter pill to swallow indeed. But not nearly enough to put even a sliver of gloom into what was a brilliant day.


Anonymous said...

He was a reved up "Furrari".

I got a little misty when I saw him slip into 4th gear and just embarrass the rest of the field.

It's often the little awkward not give a second glance at horses that become the sports greatest legends. Biscuit wasn't a grand looker. Assault had one leg longer than the other. John Henry had buck teeth and looked at times like he had some mule blood coursing through his pedigree. Genuine Risk looked fraile and had a scrawny neck.

It all goes to's the heart that matters. And Alex has the look of eagles...and the heart of a champion.

Alan Mann said...

Jillian - Nicely put....thanks for reading and your continued support!


brooklyn_bound_F_train said...

Chekov eh? He'll be the most expensive horse at Finger Lakes.
Just teasin' ya.

I should laugh. I've bet Going Wild in every stakes race he's ever run and have the tickets to prove it. Seeing that the Lewis family or Lukas refuse to run him in a restricted allowance, I know someday I'll hit that monster at 70-1. Someday. Come on about the Kings Bishop at the Spa?