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Monday, June 13, 2005
Preakness-Belmont winner to start next in Haskell

By Richard Rosenblatt
Associated Press

NEW YORK - With three races in five weeks at three race tracks, the rigors of the Triple Crown trail usually take a toll on thoroughbreds.

Most mornings after the Belmont Stakes, the last and longest of the series, trainers quickly point out their horses are taking an extended break before they resume training.

Afleet Alex isn't like most horses.

"He's an iron horse," trainer Tim Ritchey said Sunday. "He just keeps performing better and better and better every time. The races he's been through, for him to run like he did in the Preakness and then to come back and run this kind of race in the Belmont shows he's very special horse."

After finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, losing by a length to long shot Giacomo with longer shot Closing Argument second, Afleet Alex took charge of the 3-year-old division. The colt won the Preakness by 4 3/4 lengths even though he was nearly knocked down by another horse at the top of the stretch, then blew away the field in the Belmont by seven lengths.

When Ritchey showed up at Afleet Alex's barn, his colt was just as fit as he was before his 1 1/2-mile romp around the sweeping turns at Belmont Park.

"He's great, no problems," Ritchey said. "His legs were iced, they're tight as can be, he walked very well and grazed for a while. Everything's good."

Ritchey said Afleet Alex would relax for a few days before getting back to work. A horse like Alex, who loves to run and trains twice a day, needs to be on the track, the trainer said.

Next stop on the schedule is the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., on Aug. 7. After that, it's the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 27, followed by the Breeders' Cup, back at Belmont, on Oct. 29.

Ritchey was coy about which Breeders' Cup race Afleet Alex would run in, though. The BC Classic would mean a likely matchup with 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, but Ritchey said the BC Turf or even the BC Sprint are possibilities.

"Ghostzapper is a tremendous horse," Ritchey said. "Our horse is a 3-year-old. We're going to run with 3-year-olds right now. He will be running as a 4-year-old, so if Ghostzapper is still out there, I suppose we'll meet up somewhere."

Ritchey confirmed that Afleet Alex won't be retired at the end of the year, and any deal involving breeding interests must guarantee that Alex runs as a 4-year-old -- if he's healthy. And the owners, five friends from the Philadelphia area who bought Afleet Alex for $75,000, "100 percent agree to that," Ritchey added.

The trainer put Afleet Alex's worth at $20 million to $25 million, but that was before the Belmont.

"It's dramatically increased after the way he won," Ritchey said.

So why keep running when other owners tend to cash out at the earliest opportunity?

"We never got into it for the money," said Chuck Zacney, one of Afleet Alex's owners. "And at the same time, we've become attached to Alex and so have many other people. I'd hate to see him end (his racing career) prematurely. ... He's part of the family now."

And, Ritchey said, "I think it's the thing to do. I think it will make the horse more valuable, and I think the owners are having the time of their lives. I know I am."

While Afleet Alex fell short of a Triple Crown, he became the 11th thoroughbred to win the Preakness and Belmont after running in -- but not winning -- the Derby. Point Given in 2001 was the last to take the final two-thirds of the Triple Crown, then won the Haskell and Travers and earned Horse of the Year honors.

Afleet Alex, a winner in eight of 12 starts with earnings of more than $2.7 million, will likely be shipped to Monmouth Park to prepare for the Haskell after spending a few more days at Belmont.