- I can’t say I’m at all surprised at the news of the retirement of Afleet Alex, but that's not borne of the usual skepticism we all have about the motives of owners who will send their horses off to the riches of the breeding shed at the first sign of a hangnail or a hemorrhoid. These owners truly wanted to bring their horse back, and had already passed on plenty of multi-million dollar offers and shipped him to Gulfstream to prepare for a winter campaign. I have no reason to doubt head Cash is King partner Chuck Zacney when he said "We were really looking forward to racing Alex next year and to showing just how great a horse he was.” [Bloodhorse]
Speculation is that the condition that caused his retirement stems from the incident during the Preakness in which he stumbled and almost fell at the top of the stretch. But that’s just a guess, and the Philadelphia Daily News’ Dick Jerardi poses some questions to ponder.
Was it there all along and just not detected? Did the postoperative training cause it? Was it the jolt in the Preakness, as Ritchey thinks? Was it inevitable because of the stress of racing?Jerardi does not here pose the question of whether Tim Ritchey’s unorthodox training methods throughout and following the triple crown campaign contributed to the problem. However, we’ll never know the precise answer. Instead, many will understandably point to the current fragility of the breed and the stress of the triple crown grind, and some, like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bob Ford, will call for a change.
The Triple Crown series is supposed to be hard. It is supposed to be the great test of a racing champion. Back when horses were bred for endurance and raced heavily, it was still hard. Now, however, when breeding is all about speed rather than durability, when trainers are more inclined to dull pain rather than wait it out, when the richest prizes are still clustered within a brutal five-week period, now the series is a crippler that has to be altered.While many are designating the stumbling incident in the Preakness as Afleet Alex’s defining moment, I would disagree. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not minimizing what he did, but I’ve seen that before, in 1987, when Alysheba clipped the heels of Bet Twice at a similar point in the race and also stumbled before recovering to win the Derby. But I had never seen any horse not named Secretariat handle the mile and a half of the Belmont with such ease and aplomb. The way he took off and literally sprinted away from the field after Jeremy Rose seemingly simply pushed the Go button, making the “test of champions” seem like a morning breeze, is the image of Afleet Alex that will remain etched in my mind. Even Secretariat didn’t get that last quarter in :24 2/5 (the fact that he went the first six furlongs in 1:09 4/5 may have had something to do with that), the fastest since Arts and Letters in 1969. It was a truly remarkable effort, especially since it was his 3rd race in five weeks.
One suggestion for altering the series is simple but would gain little hold among traditionalists: Make it for 4-year-olds instead of 3-year-olds.
What makes more sense would be lengthening the time between the races. That would offend many as well, but it would be more humane for the horses and it would extend the excitement of the Triple Crown chase over a longer period.
Unfortunately, it was also his last. It would have been something special to see if he could have topped that.