- Horse racing doesn’t seem to get much of a break these days. The length that cost Afleet Alex a triple crown was equally as cruel to virtually everyone who wants to see our game get the attention and devotion it deserves. This horse could have easily built on the momentum established in the last three years of triple crown bids, which really elevated the Belmont to new heights in terms of attendance and TV ratings. Funny Cide and Smarty Jones provided story lines which attracted attention beyond the usual confines of the little universe that is thoroughbred racing. Afleet Alex not only combined elements of each, but added the stories of the lemonade stands and the courageous breeder. He still may very well become a horse that transcends the sport, but the Belmont would have received enormous attention if not for that length. If he'd won, nobody would have even cared today about the Michael Jackson verdict. Instead, the ratings tumbled almost to pre-2002 levels.
I still had high hopes, however, for the rest of the year. I’m looking forward to the return of Bellamy Road and an eventual encounter with Alex this summer, and thoughts even drifted to a certain
cool cold late October day at Belmont. Now, bad luck strikes again. Just two days after Afleet Alex dominated the Belmont and immediately sparked speculation of an eventual showdown in the Breeders Cup Classic with the defending Horse of the Year, word comes that Ghostzapper has been retired with a leg injury. The announcement comes just two weeks after his amazing return in the Met Mile. Remember that Frankel did seem a bit concerned afterwards and announced shortly thereafter that he would skip the Suburban on July 4.
"After the race, he had some filling in his ankle," trainer Bobby Frankel said. "We X-rayed it and didn't find anything, but I wasn't comfortable with it and wanted to make sure everything was all right. I didn't want to take any chances, so I sent him to New Bolton (Medical Center) on Wednesday (June 8).While it’s certainly a blow to us fans of the game, I don’t know how much he really would have helped the sport as far as publicity goes. He only would have run three more times, all in New York, and none of his races prior to the Breeders Cup are on live national TV anyway! (Hello, why is the NTRA dragging their feet on the TCT?) I imagine his name recognition outside the sport is virtually zero anyway, and with no TV it certainly would have remained around there until the Breeders Cup, which would have been his last race. Even if he’d run the table to another title, he probably would have left as many questions as answers given his light schedule, and having raced almost exclusively in New York, mostly around Belmont’s single turn. If he was just so fragile that he couldn’t race more than five times and not once outside of familiar surroundings, then maybe he shouldn’t have come back in the first place.
It was worth keeping him in training just for winning that one race. He impressed people in the Met more than he did in the Breeders' Cup, and he ended his career in style." [Bloodhorse]
Contrast his 11 lifetime starts (he's a 5 yo) to the fact that Afleet Alex has 12 - his first race was last June 26. And that’s not to mention his daily marathons, yet he only seems to be getting stronger, while the brittle champion now starts a new line of work.
I’m sorry to see that Jeremy Rose seems to have become convinced by all the talk that he cost Afleet Alex the triple crown with a bad ride in the Kentucky Derby. I don’t think he should assume the blame for losing the Crown...at least not for his Derby ride, let me explain. I’m defending him - kind of - despite the fact that he got a bit on my nerves with his childish tough talk stuff in the NY Post when John Parisella criticized his Derby ride; and his quip ("I looked over and said, 'Game over....There's your rubber match.") about what he did when he passed Giacomo was obnoxious and really unnecessary especially considering how classy the horse's connections have been. However, I think he rode Afleet Alex in the Derby like he has every other time he’s ridden him, which has resulted in 8 wins in 11 starts with Rose. He made his same move around the turn, saving ground just like he did in the last two legs. It’s totally fair to point out that he was a bit too close to the hot pace, but the way he’s decimated any of those who’ve faced him again suggests another possible and I believe more likely explanation for his coming up short: he was just a little short. He’d had a major interruption in his training when he suffered the lung infection and ran last in the Rebel. That race couldn’t have done anything for him, and he went on medication and missed significant time. He bounced back big time in the Arkansas Derby, speeding home in 11:4/5 as Rose, hearing the crowd noise and thinking Greater Good was coming, unnecessarily whipped and drove him home. Considering the way he’s gathered steam throughout the triple crown races, I think it’s fair to speculate without at all being critical of Tim Ritchey or Afleet Alex that the horse was simply a tad short that day. About a length. A margin that perhaps Jeremy Rose contributed to with his driving finish at Oaklawn.
- Please feel free to email me with comments, suggestions, links, or questions.