- The on-track Belmont attendance was certainly a disappointment, but you could point to the increased admission and seat prices and the no-alcohol policy as at least partial factors, though the alcohol ban turned out to be a bit of a joke for anyone who was determined to imbibe and didn't absolutely require cans or bottles of beer packed in ice. I was surprised how unorganized the security for entering patrons turned out to be after all the tough talk. Inside the track, there was the disarming sight of police walking around with machine guns, in addition to regular Nassau County cops, who don't project the same aura of intimidation as NYC police. They have these bright orange insignias on their dark blue uniforms that make them look more like NY Mets warmup jerseys than real cop outfits.
More alarming was the dismal TV ratings, down more than 60% from last year's Smarty party, a steeper decline than even support for the war in Iraq, where the American death toll eclipsed the 1700 mark this past weekend. It seems the public wants Triple Crown winners, and an athletic, courageous, and durable colt with fascinating and heart-warming human stories attached just doesn't quite do the trick. The bright side is that the ratings were up a bit from the last non-Triple Crown Belmont, and that the last five years was markedly better than the prior five - both segments contained three TC tries.
What can be done about this? Not much, really. I'm not in favor of any changes in terms of distances or time between races that would make a sweep easier. The one change that should perhaps be considered is that of limiting the Derby field to 14. If Afleet Alex lost the Derby because of a rabbit and dead weight that would have been excluded with a normal size field, then perhaps that's enough reason to consider a change.
- Cash Is King can do much to help promote the sport by following through on their intention to keep Alex racing through his 4 yo season. But the offers that are sure to continue must be hard to resist, and we've seen far wealthier people succumb in the past. Tim Ritchey was saying that the horse was likely worth $20-25 million, and that was before he made a mockery of the Belmont field. Managing partner Chuck Zacney was asked about the temptation.
Since breeding money is certain and racing purses are anything but sure, he was asked if he and his partners, all of whom are from relatively modest backgrounds, will be able to remain steadfast as offers became grander.But Wayne Lukas, discussing the sale of his injured and now-retired Consolidator, gives Bill Christine of the LA Times an idea of exactly what kind of money is likely to be waved in their faces. "The way it worked is 16 farms put in blind bids, in sealed envelopes...[Jonabell Farm] had the highest bid. I won't tell how much money it was, but it was mind-boggling." If a horse with Consolidator's relatively modest record draws mind-boggling money (it's true that the fact he's a son of Storm Cat helps), one can only imagine the sums that will surely challenge the resolve of the Philly crew to keep their horse running. By the way, D Wayne didn't fare well at the betting window Saturday. He told reporters yesterday that some expert handicappers, whom he respected, advised him that Afleet Alex might be tailing off, so Lukas left him out of his Pick Sixes and Superfectas. [NY Post] Perhaps though he didn't lose more than his share of his 5th place finisher A.P. Arrow's $30,000 piece of the Belmont purse.
"That is a good question," said Zacney, who owns and operates a regional medical billing company in Pennsylvania. "I don't think I could really answer that today. We are going to take some time and kick back and see what everybody wants to do."
But then he quickly added, "If we do anything, it will be down the road after his 4-year-old campaign." [USA Today]
- Dick Jerardi of the Philly Daily News has this interesting revelation by Tim Ritchey regarding his workout regimen for Afleet Alex, one that just makes more and more sense in light of the colt's success.
"I had a conversation with Ron Turcotte that was pretty interesting...He said Secretariat galloped 3 miles many days. I know how those older trainers trained. I've been a student of the game.- Neither the winner's final time of 2:28.75 nor his speed figure of 106 may look overly impressive, but they're irrelevant, really, and Bill Handleman of the Asbury Park Press writes to not even think about disparaging his performance on that basis.
"I've always thought if I got this opportunity, I'm not going to have a horse that's going to run a mile-and-a-half that's only going to train a mile-and-a-half. It logically doesn't make sense."
That's why Ritchey sent Alex through all those morning miles. By the Belmont Stakes, the colt was ready for horse racing's version of the triathlon. Which is why when Alex cruised up to the leader at the Belmont Park quarter pole, the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby distance behind him and Derby winner Giacomo next to him, Alex took off as if the race had just started... "I looked over and said, 'Game over,' " Rose said. "There's your rubber match."
If you couldn't appreciate what Afleet Alex did in the Belmont Stakes, you should look into finding a new hobby, horse racing isn't your thing.Instead, judge him on that final quarter; watch the race again, you'll see that the horse was virtually under wraps for the first two minutes of the race.
On a day when early speed was unbeatable and the inside part of the track was the place to be, a day when nobody was making up any ground in the stretch, Afleet Alex came from behind, closing into a slow pace, began his decisive move way out on the track, and made up 10 lengths on the leaders from the midway point in the race and won off by seven.
I don't care if he was running against mules, this was impressive.
No one's comparing him to Secretariat yet. But anyone who just looks at the time of the race - 2:28 3/5ths - and dismisses Afleet Alex as the best of a slow bunch has grossly over-simplified the game and done a great disservice to a colt who could go on to be one of the special horses of our time.
- Nick Zito expressed sentiment that many of us had been saying and writing about the new Gulfstream configuration that changed their prep distances and schedule.
"Three races at 1 1/8 miles - in retrospect that was too much for the horse," Zito said. "It was ridiculous that that's what the program was down there, but when you're stabled there and need to run your horse, what can you do? Tracks need to know that the well-being of the horses means more than their private agendas. I'll be back in Florida, but I won't subject my horses to that kind of schedule next year. We'll ship out of town to run if we have to." [LA Times]It wasn't only the distance, but the fact that the Florida Derby was moved to five weeks beforehand. At this point, there's not much Magna can do about the track configuration, and the Florida Derby is well on its way to being marginalized as a prep race. Perhaps Frank Stronach will make the Preakness the centerpiece of the meeting instead.
- Trainer Bob Baffert thinks Rose survived the Preakness disaster because he is that modern rarity: He rides with his feet all the way in the irons and it saved him from being thrown when Alex cannoned into Scrappy T.
That's a hot debating point in Australia right now, because falls and jockey injuries are plaguing the game out there. Retired jockey Pat Hyland swears it's because Aussie jockeys, copying their American peers, are riding with just their tippy-toes in the irons, giving them no control over the horse and rendering them liable to be spilled out of the saddle. [NY Post]