Alex Leaves 'Em Gasping

The day before the 130th Preakness Stakes (gr. I), jockey Jeremy Rose said of Afleet Alex, "This horse will run over broken glass if I ask him to."

Several weeks earlier at Churchill Downs, Liz Scott, mother of Alexandra  "Alex" Scott, the 4-year-old girl who started the now-famous "Alex's Lemonade Stand" to raise money for cancer research, compared her daughter, who lost her battle with juvenile cancer last year, to Afleet Alex. "Alex was a fighter and determined," she said, "and watching this horse run definitely reminds me of her, with the same competitive, always-do-your-best attitude."

On May 21, the prophetic words of Rose and Scott and the heart of Afleet Alex became etched in Preakness lore. For as long as they run races at historic Pimlico Race Course, there will be erected a monument in the mind at the head of the stretch, honoring the courage and athleticism of a small bay colt and the rider with whom he bonded.

It all happened so quickly, yet the horrific image of Afleet Alex nearly falling after clipping heels will remain embedded in the memory, forever teetering on the edge of disaster.

Here was Afleet Alex, the horse whose life has been encompassed with one fairy tale saga after another, storming up on the outside of the leader, longshot Scrappy T. The record 115,318 fans in attendance erupted as they sensed the Cinderella story unfolding before them. But, in the blink of an eye, the scene changed. Jockey Ramon Dominguez reached back and gave Scrappy T a roundhouse left-handed whip, causing the colt to veer sharply to his right, and directly into the path of Afleet Alex. The crowd sensed that something ominous was about to happen, as if watching a car blow its front tire at the Indy 500 and spinning perilously out of control in front of oncoming traffic. Everyone held their breath, then let out a collective gasp.

Rose, who was expecting to see nothing but wide open spaces in front of him as he turned for home, suddenly was staring straight down into the brown Pimlico loam, which was moving rapidly toward him. Afleet Alex had clipped Scrappy T's heels and stumbled so badly, his face and knees were only inches from the ground. Rose's arms were now fully extended, as his body lurched in the air. He could only hang on to the reins, while grabbing hold of Alex's mane, and hope the colt who had become such a special part of his life would be able to pull himself off the ground.

"I think my heart stopped," Rose said. "I have no idea how I stayed on. The only reason I did was either Alex popped back up or little Alex (Scott) kept me on. I was basically hanging on in fear."

In one of the most remarkable recoveries ever seen, Afleet Alex not only was able to stay on his feet and keep Rose on his back, he got right back to the business of winning the race as if nothing had happened. It took him only two strides to switch over to his right lead, and just as quickly and dramatically as the scene had changed, it returned to normal. The only difference was that Alex was now on the inside of Scrappy T instead of the outside, his eyes glaring and his ears pinned, as if incensed at Scrappy T for putting him through such an ordeal.

Rose coolly regained his composure, and he and Alex quickly were back in sync, drawing off from Scrappy T to win by 4 3/4 lengths.

Following the race, emotions collided. The ecstasy of victory was tempered slightly by the frightful images that still were fresh in the minds of trainer Tim Ritchey and the partners in Cash is King Stable, whose first purchase was Afleet Alex.

"Unbelievable!" Ritchey exclaimed, his face still flushed. "I was horrified. I thought he was on the ground. He has the heart of a champion."

Joe Lerro, one of the partners--along with Bob Brittingham, Joseph Judge, Jennifer Reeves, and managing partner Chuck Zacney--said, "Oh, God, that scared me to death. I love Alex, and I love Jeremy. What a ride!"

For Zacney's wife, Carol, it didn't sink in until she was able to watch the replay while heading back to the stakes barn. She dreaded what was to come. When Alex almost went down, she clasped her hands in front of her mouth in shock. "Oh, my God. My baby!" she shouted, as tears quickly welled up with the realization of what might have happened to the horse she considered her "pet" and the jockey who calls her "mom."

"My big fear is that something is going to happen, and I always have nightmares about it," she said. "My mom died 20 years ago, and she was a very superstitious Irish lady, and now she's leaving that legacy behind. I always ask her to ride with Alex and Jeremy. Chuck's dad passed away when he was five, so I say, 'Mom, find Mr. Zacney and ride with him.' And after seeing what almost happened, I have to believe she was there with him today, because that was a miracle."

With all the connections of Afleet Alex being interviewed in an infield tent behind the winner's circle, a rainbow appeared to add to the ethereal flavor of the moment. One of the few to see it was Afleet Alex's breeder, John Silvertand, who has become a major part of the Afleet Alex fairy tale.

Afleet Alex's dam, Maggy Hawk, a daughter of Hawkster, was unable to produce milk, and therefore could not provide her foal with colostrum, the antibody-rich fluid that helps prevent disease outside the womb. Because a foal has only a 10% chance of surviving without colostrum, a nurse mare had to be found for the son of Northern Afleet. During the 12 days it took to obtain one, Silvertand's then 9-year-old daughter, Lauren, fed the foal milk every day out of a beer bottle. A photo of Lauren feeding Alex eventually made its way onto the colt's Web site and into other publications.

More than two years ago, Silvertand was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only a couple of months to live. As Afleet Alex's career progressed, Silvertand decided to discontinue chemotherapy and leave it "in God's hands" in order to fully enjoy the experience.

As the colt's fame grew, so did the story of Lauren. Before the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Silvertand and his wife, Carolyn, were contacted by Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn and First Lady Dema Guinn, who said they were starting a cancer fund campaign and wanted to use the Silvertands' photo of Lauren to help bolster it.

Now Silvertand stood, away from all the excitement of the Preakness' post-race celebration. "I've got the shakes," he said. "The way he picked himself up and came back on was just fabulous."

Silvertand had traveled to Baltimore the day before the Preakness by himself from his home in Lake Worth, Fla. Although he had been feeling ill and was seriously thinking about staying home, he decided he had to be there for the race. This is what he had stayed alive to witness.

"My CEA (cancer screening) counts had been going down, but they've started to go back up again," Silvertand said. "So, I'm going in for a series of tests next week to see if the cancer has returned. But whatever happens, I didn't expect to be here this long, so it's all been wonderful for me. I try to plan things around Alex to keep me going. Right now, I'm planning on being at the Belmont (gr. I), then the Travers (gr. I) in beautiful Saratoga, and the Breeders' Cup. I can see it all in my mind. I don't notice my pain because of all the excitement that's going on. Maybe when everything quiets down tonight I won't feel as good as everyone else, but I'm still going to feel pretty good.

"This has been so much more than just a horse story. You have Alex's Lemonade Stand, which has been benefiting from all the publicity, and has gotten a great many people interested in horse racing. There are so many wonderful things in this world we will never get to see, and I'm just so glad to be here."

Alex's Lemonade Stand and its connection to Afleet Alex has been well documented. Zacney, who had named Afleet Alex after his son, heard about Alex Scott, a young girl diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer. Alex decided to open a lemonade stand in her front yard in order to raise money for cancer research. Word spread around the globe, and donations have now reached more than $2 million.

When Zacney heard about it, he naturally thought of Afleet Alex, his son Alex, and two of the other partners' children, named Alex and Alexandra. He pledged $5,000 to the fund, and now donates a portion of Afleet Alex's winnings. Last August, Alex Scott lost her battle with cancer at age eight, but her lemonade stand lives on. It collected around $11,000 at the Kentucky Derby and $17,000 at the Preakness. All of Afleet Alex's merchandising material is emblazoned with a lemon, signifying its support of the fund, and a portion of the proceeds are donated to Alex's Lemonade Stand.

Beyond the heart-warming fringes of the Afleet Alex story is Afleet Alex himself, and the unlikely cast of characters that surround him.

"Our story is about the little guy," Lerro said. "They called us bush league owners. They said we had a bush league trainer and a bush league jockey. Well, guess what? They didn't know about the heart of a champion. A lot of people wish they had our horse now, and our trainer and jockey."

Ritchey, a former show horse rider who nearly competed in the Olympics as a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team, recalls his first meeting with the horse who would change his life.

"Mr. Silvertand lost the horse on a coin toss following a foal-sharing agreement," he said. "He was considered an ugly duckling, and the person who won the toss (John Devers) sold him privately for $150,000 (to Joseph Allen). They broke him and put him in training, but the same advisers who told (Allen) to buy him, told him to get rid of him. So, he was consigned to the Fasig-Tipton Timonium sale as a 2-year-old."

Ritchey, who was training at Delaware Park, had met Zacney through his brother and one of Zacney's best friends. Zacney had followed Ritchey's career and often bet on his horses. He called and asked if Ritchey would buy a horse for him and the new partnership he was forming, all of whose members were from the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley area.

"I wasn't taking on any new clients at the time," Ritchey said. "I already had a full stable. But he was a great guy and straightforward, and we really hit it off. I told him, 'Sure, you guys get a little group together and we'll go ahead and do something.' "

That was in April 2004. One month later, Ritchey attended the Timonium sale with the intention of buying two horses. Ritchey picked out seven or eight colts he liked, one of whom was the son of Northern Afleet out of Maggy Hawk, consigned as agent by Robert Scanlon.

"I found him to be an extremely athletic, intelligent, and laid-back horse," Ritchey recalled. "The first time I had him out of his stall, they walked him for me. I loved the way he walked and moved. There were other horses outside at the same time, and they were leaping in the air and rearing and striking, and he just stood there like a rock and kind of looked at them as if to say, 'What are you guys doing?' That really impressed me. We had the vet look at his X-rays and do all the vet work, and he passed with flying colors."

Ritchey was willing to go up to $125,000, but there was only one other person, five seats away, bidding against him. The bidding crawled in $5,000 increments until Ritchey got him for $75,000, half of what he had originally sold for. Cash is King Stable had its first horse.

Lerro had joined the partnership because he had had a bad year betting and was looking for some action. All he recalls in the beginning was continuously calling Zacney and asking him, "What's our trainer's name again?" When Afleet Alex won his first two starts at Delaware Park by a combined 23 1/4 lengths, it was time to start thinking big. Ritchey rattled off a plan that would take the colt to the Sanford (gr. II) and Hopeful (gr. I) at Saratoga, then the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park and Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Lone Star Park.

Lerro called Zacney and said, "Who is this guy? He's out of his mind." Lerro went to Saratoga and took one look at D. Wayne Lukas and thought, "This is way out of my league. I can't handle this.

"Sure enough, Tim was right," he continued. "After Alex won the Sanford (in stakes record time), people started telling us that the Frankels and other top trainers are gonna be knocking at our door. At that point, I went 'Whoa.' I haven't stopped thanking Tim and Chuck since."

He thanked them when the $1.5-million offers started coming in. And he thanked them when the offers increased to $2 million. But Zacney and the partners had no intention of selling. This was about having fun and sharing it with friends and family. A victory in the Hopeful Stakes followed, and now Alex, the one-time ugly duckling, was a grade I winner. Although he ended the year with two narrow defeats in the Champagne and Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he still amassed earnings of $680,800.

During the winter at Oaklawn Park, Ritchey made a dramatic change in Alex's training routine that would become the brunt of jokes from other trainers. He began training the horse twice a day, jogging early, then following with a stiff gallop later in the morning.

"After the Breeders' Cup, he was getting bored in his stall, so we started walking him anywhere from three to five times a day," Ritchey said. "Then I began training him twice a day and he seemed to love it. You can't do it with every horse, but it really helped him. I had trainers at Oaklawn come up to me and say, 'Boy, you've got two horses that really look alike.' "

Alex rolled to an impressive victory in the six-furlong Mountain Valley Stakes March 5 before suffering a crushing defeat two weeks later in the Rebel Stakes (gr. III), finishing last as the 3-5 favorite, with John Velazquez replacing Rose in the saddle. But it was discovered the colt had a severe lung infection, and although many quickly dismissed him as a Derby contender, Ritchey never lost faith. He put him on antibiotics for seven days and pointed for the April 16 Arkansas Derby (gr. II). When Velazquez jumped ship and went to Todd Pletcher-trained Bandini for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), Ritchey and the partners had a big decision to make: look for another big-name rider or go back to Rose, who had developed an almost spiritual-like rapport with Alex. They decided to remain loyal to Rose and named him to ride in the Arkansas Derby.

"After the Rebel, the first person back at the barn to see Alex was Jeremy," Zacney said. "It shows how much he cares for this horse. The bond the two of them have formed is really special, and it made a whole lot of sense to go back to Jeremy."

Following Alex's breathtaking eight-length victory, he was once again back on the list of leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby. Although Alex finished third at Churchill Downs behind longshots Giacomo and Closing Argument, he was beaten only a length while racing on the inside, considered the worst part of the track that day. (Alex actually came out of the Derby with another lung infection, but Ritchey and Zacney did not want to sound like they were making the same excuse again, so they treated him and kept it quiet).

About an hour after the Derby, while the connections of Giacomo were still celebrating, Rose, dressed and packed, made one final stop at Alex's Lemonade Stand to sign a photo. Dejected but proud of his horse's effort, he said, "He tried. He definitely tried. The horse gave me everything he had. We gave it our best and he dug in for all he's worth. He's a tough boy. He's still the best as far as I'm concerned, and hopefully we can try again in the Preakness."

So, now it was on to Baltimore and another shot at Giacomo and Closing Argument. Nick Zito had three of his five Derby starters--Sun King, High Fly, and Noble Causeway--back for another try in the 14-horse field, in which Afleet Alex was made the 3-1 favorite. The colt walked to the track to the chants of "Alex...Alex...Alex" resounding from the stands and the throng gathered near the gap.

The Bobby Frankel-trained High Limit, wearing blinkers for the first time, went to the front as expected, pressed by Going Wild, with Scrappy T and Galloping Grocer right behind. With High Limit and Going Wild at each other's throats, the pace over the drying-out track listed as fast was quick, with fractions of :23.17, :46.07, and 1:10.72.

Rose, who had broken from the disadvantageous 12 post, made a brilliant left-hand turn coming out of the gate, and somehow managed to get Alex to the two-path going into the first turn. He settled the colt nicely in 10th along the inside, about 10 lengths off the lead. Saving ground the whole way, he launched his bid and began picking off horses around the far turn while still hugging the rail.

By now, Scrappy T, winner of the Withers Stakes (gr. III), had put High Limit away and quickly opened a clear lead as they neared the head of the stretch. Only one horse had a shot to catch him, and that was a flying Afleet Alex, who was kicking into overdrive the same way he had in the Arkansas Derby and Mountain Valley.

He eased outside of High Limit and blew by him as if he were standing still, then quickly pounced on Scrappy T. The only question now was how far Alex would win by. Then came one of the scariest moments in racing history. "There was really nothing I could do," Dominguez said. "I knew Afleet Alex was right there. I looked back and I saw him stumble. It was scary, but luckily everyone is OK. I'm sure Jeremy knows it wasn't intentional."

Rose kept after Alex with several right-handed whips in the final furlong, and he continued to increase his lead. He closed his final three-sixteenths in an impressive :19 flat en route to a final time of 1:55.04 for the 1 3/16 miles, an excellent time over the deep track. Scrappy T hung tough, finishing five lengths ahead of Giacomo, who was a length in front of Sun King.

For the Derby winner, there was no disgrace in defeat. "You certainly can't feel embarrassed winning the Derby and coming back to finish third in the Preakness," trainer John Shirreffs said. "I think it says a lot about Giacomo."

So, the amazing journey of Afleet Alex marches on, driven by the power of the human spirit and one special Thoroughbred who has touched so many lives in so many ways.

As Rose sat on a bench the morning after the race, Alex, who was out grazing, came over to him and laid his head on the rider's shoulder. The day before, both had stared into the abyss, and each had helped pull the other out. Rose, without turning around, took out a mint and fed it to the colt, then reached up and gently stroked the side of Alex's head. Gratitude comes in many forms.

72 Comments

Leave a Comment:

s lee

Wonderful story, scary memories.

I, like so many others, thought for sure Alex was going down.  I remember being amazed that he picked himself back up, dusted himself off and said, basically, "oh yeah?  that's all you got?  I'll show you how a REAL race horse runs!"

To this day I look at the pictures of Alex's nose being LOWER than Scrappy T's hooves, of Jeremy's cap brim being at the level of Scrappy T's saddle, of Jeremy's face with all his goggles gone, and I still cannot believe Alex got back up, that Jeremy stayed with him, and they won that race.

what a day!  what a race!  what a team!  Thanks Steve!  whew!

17 Dec 2009 5:24 PM
txhorsefan

At first it was hard to read this because of the tears in my eyes - such emotion stirred because of your description of that amazing moment of Alex's agility!  Wow!  Of course, all the background story lines tug on the heart, too, and your closing lines about Jeremy feeding the mint to Afleet Alex is so vivid since I have seen that lovely photograph.  Thank you once again, Steve, for bringing to life such a beautiful, colorful, wonderful, scary and totally awesome moment in racing.

17 Dec 2009 6:05 PM
Karen in Texas

The word "amazing" seems to be used too casually these days. That horse, that race, that jockey were truly amazing on that afternoon! Later, after the Belmont, I remember Charlsie Cantey commenting that the Eclipse people might as well go ahead and mail him his award early! Thanks, Steve, for recapping another special moment in racing.

17 Dec 2009 6:07 PM
steve from st louis

Afleet Alex' athletic half-gainer with a full twist in mid-stretch will be remembered as long as horses run. One of the few times I can remember a racetrack accident having a happy ending. It's only inches different than the  Arlington Park accident which cost Rene Douglas his ability to walk.

17 Dec 2009 6:15 PM
DB

One of my favorite horses

17 Dec 2009 6:40 PM
Rita

So sweet,tender and sad. Beautifully written in only your way Steve. Nothing better than a love story between humans and animals. Thank you.

17 Dec 2009 7:29 PM
Susan

I went from horrified to screaming like crazy with tears in my eyes for Afleet Alex in that Preakness!  This is definitely one of my favorite stories you've written.  What a treat to get to read and relive it again!

17 Dec 2009 8:05 PM
alybar

I loved Alex from the time he was a two year old and I have always felt that he was cheated out of the Eclipse Award for the best two year old male.  I did not know about him being sick on Derby Day, but I do know he had to check which I thought cost him the Derby.  He should have been a triple crown winner.  I was so sorry that he never raced again after the Belmont.

17 Dec 2009 8:21 PM
Deborah

What a great story! I will never forget Alex's bravery and courage in that Preakness.  Alex and Smarty are my favorite horses of the decade, by far!

17 Dec 2009 8:58 PM
cgriff

Alex was, in my opinion the most gifted of the "almost" Triple Crown winners.  

Knowing he had a second lung infection and still just missed the Derby by a length makes me wonder why the TC gods would thwart such a great little horse.

But he showed them big time in the Preakness, and I cried watching his Belmont runaway.

Now he is so promising as a new sire...I know Silvertand must be just beaming at the prospect of generations of runners from his ugly duckling bottle fed foal.

What a horse!

17 Dec 2009 9:13 PM
anna w

if he hadn't had a relapse of the lung infection then he would've probably won the ky derby and ended the tc winner drought

17 Dec 2009 9:29 PM
Kate

I vividly remember watching this, and the immediate interview with Jeremy Rose afterwards. They asked him how he managed to hold on, and his response was, "I was too scared to fall off!"

I think it was less than a month later that another girl and I decided one of the Arabians we worked with needed to be exercised - since the barn had just moved from a different state we didn't have any tack, but the mare was supposed to be very quiet to ride and trained to neck rein and so we put lead ropes on both sides of her halter, I jumped up bareback, and the other girl let go. I had a sudden sense of what it must be like to come out of a starting gate as the mare took off running around the arena. I clung to her neck with the fresh memories of Afleet Alex's Preakness in my mind and suddenly understood what Jeremy Rose was talking about.

(after two laps around the arena running full speed, I think I might have been choking her, but she slowed down and I jumped off, if you were wondering)

17 Dec 2009 9:56 PM
Kyri Freeman

One of the most amazing races I've ever seen, and speaking of Afleet Alex as a sire, check out the replay of his son Afleet Express's winning debut at Aqueduct on 12/5, race 2...

17 Dec 2009 10:04 PM
Paula Higgins

Loved this. I remember this race well. A gutsy horse. I am so sorry that little girl lost her battle with cancer. She was a gutsy, wonderful little girl.

17 Dec 2009 10:04 PM
Soldier Course

The impression that struck me when Donna B. Brothers interviewed Jeremy Rose immediately after the race was how fearless this young jockey was, in the best sense of the word. He hit  all the right notes at that moment. Even his confidence in Afleet Alex's abilty to win the Belmont turned out to be well-founded.

17 Dec 2009 10:23 PM
Draynay

Afleet Alex should have been our most recent Triple Crown winner but it was ruined because someone threw a horse into the race with no chance of winning or even attempting to win.  The horses sole purpose was to run Bellamy Road into the ground.  Any horse within 10 lengths was burnt out allowing a horse who never should have won the race to win.  It was a perfect example of why running rabbits does a disservice to the sport we love.  Afleet Alex was one of my all time favorites.

17 Dec 2009 10:26 PM
Gayle M

what ever became of Scrappy T?   I have not found much on him.  And nothing in the past year or so.

17 Dec 2009 10:47 PM
Deacon

Afleet Alex was one of the best horses in the past 20 years. It seems that he does not get the vredit he deserves, what an athlete. His Preakness win was nothing short of amazing. He should have won the Triple Crown just like Smarty Jones should have and also Real Quiet. Thanks for reminding us why we love this sport......

Happy Holidays Steve............

18 Dec 2009 12:11 AM
Julie L.

Afleet Alex is one of my all time favorites and yes he should have won the triple crown. I did not get to see the Preakness live that day but saw replays later and could not believe what happened. What a true athlete Alex was. His Belmont win was so impressive the way he just shot away from the rest of the field. I am so glad that his babies are doing so well.

18 Dec 2009 12:51 AM
Slew

I remember that Preakness so vividly, watching with my heart in my throat, and being amazed by such

bravery in Afleet Alex.  I have one question however: why, with over 100,000 fans in attendance was only $17,000 raised from the lemonade stand?  Were the fans that miserly, or was the PR that expensive?  Afleet Alex's owners have much to be proud of not only with their colt, but also with their generosity toward cancer research.

18 Dec 2009 6:41 AM
Don from Delaware

Great recall Steve, but did you mention that he AA went on to win the Belmont three weeks later? #9 have the winner photo on my wall. Should have been triple crown winner but still a great champ nonetheless,

all the more...I saw him break his maiden at DP, jumped out of the stands went above the winners circle and told Tim he was going to KD+...such a special moment of Zen for me.....thanks for recap.don

18 Dec 2009 6:45 AM
gailg

Afleet Alex is one of my all time favorites. I had only been watching horse racing for 2 years when he came along. I remember my stomach falling to the ground when they clipped heels and then jumping up and down and screaming in my living room with abandon as he picked himself up and won that race. Afleet Alex is one of my all time favorites. I have his Breyer horse model, the picture of him laying his head on Jeremy's shoulder while he feeds him a mint and I am fortunate to have some of his races on dvd (2004 Breeders Cup Preview and I recorded the Kentucky Derby). I follow his offspring and cheer for them. Thanks, Steve for reprinting this wonderful article. For a moment, I was transported back in time experiencing the thrill all over again.

18 Dec 2009 6:48 AM
Fran Loszynski

What can I say Steve, my eyes are welling up with tears. Boy can you write! No one could have written it better. I took out the picture of Afleet Alex when he came up to me at Gainesway and stared me in the eye. I will never forget that- and the love story that evolved with the owners, and everyone involved. When Afleet Alex's legacy enters the history books I am sure this article will follow. Thank you again for letting me remember the day I cheered at Belmont and heard the little kids cry out "We Love You Afleet Alex!"

18 Dec 2009 7:46 AM
Cheryl Denton

Steve, I need to stop reading your articles so early in the morning-I always ruin my makeup with the tears! I'll never forget that Preakness day and the courage and heart both Alex and Jeremy showed. I have visited Alex at Gainesway several times, and he is a lovely and kind stallion.  I hope his babies do him proud.

18 Dec 2009 7:54 AM
CURLINLOVER

Afleet Alex is one of my favorites as well.  What bravery and athleticism he displayed in addition to his incredible ability! He should have and could have won the Triple Crown given better circumstances! And he was a beautiful horse doing so much good for humanity and his fans.  What a horse! He will be remembered!

18 Dec 2009 9:28 AM
mararacing

I am still amazed at the fact Alex did not go down and take half the Preakness field with him. Picking himself and Jeremy up off the ground and coming back to win the race is the epitomy of 'heart of a champion'. The reminder of the 'unconventional' training methods used certainly played a key roll in Alex's success.  It is unfortunate that he is one of the many that was retired early and we were not able to enjoy more great feats from this horse.  Thanks Steve for the great memory.

Draynay, even without the rabbit, it is unlikely Alex would have won the KD.  He was not himself, and as pointed out here, came out of the KD with a lung infection. The fact that he was sick after the Rebel certainly contributed to his KD race. The racing gods have a different view of who should have won.  Giacamo was a good horse that was on his game that day and even if your so called rabbit hadn't been in the race, I am sure you have seen enough KDs to know some other horse would have done the same, that is the way of the KD.  Stone cold closers don't always get there in time, thats what makes them fun to watch and a running style that appears, you disdain.  Giacomo was clearly getting better and showed it in races prior to the Derby.  The added distance clearly worked in his favor.  I think your just mad you dismissed the Holy Bull/Smith connection and the what was to come from Sherrifs. Giacamo displaced his palate in the Belmont, a condition that clearly compromised his career and abilities.

Gayle Scrappy T was retired at the end of 2007 and resides as a foxhunter in Powhatan VA.

18 Dec 2009 9:43 AM
Billy's Empire

Aflet Alex was awesome. He was a sight to see, and would just dominate his opponents. I knew I had a "problem" with horse racing when I dreamt 3 days before that race Alex would come wide on the turn and win by 5.5 legnths. Well, he tried to, but clipped heels and went inside to win by 4.5, but needless to say I raked in some serious coin that day. Everything about Alex was inspiring, from his troubled birth to his name and the way he raced. Thanks for the story Steve. Alex is not talked about in the same manner as some of the greats, but in my opinion, he is one of the best colts I have seen in person, EVER.

18 Dec 2009 10:04 AM
Soldier Course

Every time I watch the video of this race, I still jump when Afleet Alex goes to his knees, even though I've seen it dozens of times.

18 Dec 2009 10:08 AM
Debbie O'Connor

What a story!  I don't think you can get better than what really happens in horse racing.  I remember watching Alex fall when he was bumped, I thought I was going to vomit, then, if by magic he righted himself and KEPT RUNNING!!  I remember one of the TV Analyst saying "horses aren't supposed to be able to do that".  Of all horses, he had to be bumped by my second favorite that day, Scrappy T.  I have a picture from the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer on my office wall showing Alex Falling to his knees, every time I look out the window I pause to look at it and marvel at the miracle that happened that day.

18 Dec 2009 10:15 AM
Karen2

Oh how I love Afleet Alex.....He is the epitome of a thoroughbred race horse.  I think it's important to mention the very rough trip Alex had in the derby. He literally came back with cuts all over his legs. It was more like bumper cars. But he proved he was tough as nails and for me...his run in preakness has been the single most amazing performance in decades of racing. I will never forget it. I remember staring at the T.V with my jaw dropped trying to figure out what I had just witnessed. In fact, I remember e-mailing you Steve and saying that I never thought my broken heart would heal after Smarty's retirement but along came Alex......... what a way to heal a broken heart.  I LOVE you Afleet Alex!!!!!!!!!!

18 Dec 2009 10:31 AM
Robyn

Thanks for reposting this. Afleet Alex is one of my favorites and I teared up reading Jeremy's quote that perhaps little Alex Scott was watching over them. His campaign is what brought Alex's Lemonade Stand to my attention and I still follow them to this day. What a perfect story to read for the holidays.

18 Dec 2009 10:47 AM
dianeche

I will never forget that race. It was really the beginning of my love for horseracing.  People don't seem to realize that Afleet Alex lost the triple crown by a length.  What a horse!

18 Dec 2009 10:58 AM
2:24

One of the greatest things I have ever seen in racing.  I still get goose bumps watching this.  This horse was incredible and had an incredible turn of foot.  I agree with Draynay, if Spanish Chestnut had not been entered as a rabbit, Alex wins the Derby even with a lung infection.  The Spanish Chestnut thing was absolutely ridiculous much like when Songandaprayer fried Point Given with a ridiculous pace in 2001.

18 Dec 2009 11:19 AM
Serena

Steve, yours was the column I read to get all the details of Alex's unbelievable win.... I was traveling across the country on May 21 and knew I wouldn't be able to catch the race unless some airport bar was showing it.  So I called home and asked the hubby "Who won the Preakness?" and he wasn't sure but said  "Some horse that almost fell down. But he won anyway"   So nonchalant!!   "almost fell down??!!"  I asked if it was Afleet Alex and he said, "yeah, Alex"  Naturally, it made the front of the Cleveland Plain Dealer sports page that Sunday.   What a heartstopper that was and I think many agree it was about the most amazing feat we've seen on a racetrack.  What a special horse and a special memory!

18 Dec 2009 11:19 AM
Melissa

LOVED his Preakness... And Dave Rodman's call made it all the more memorable... "How much the best is he?!"

I still watch his Preakness and Belmont from time to time. What an amazing little horse.

18 Dec 2009 11:24 AM
Zookeeper

mararacing,

Very well said about the 2005 Derby. The only comment I would like to add: What an incredible ride Mike Smith gave Giacomo! The overview of these two weaving in and out to victory was astounding.

Afleet Alex and Jeremy Rose were just as incredible in the Preakness if not even more so. Mr. Haskin, your account of this unforgettable moment is pure delight! Thank you!

The best thing about looking back and reliving these (recent past) golden moments of horseracing is that it makes us realize how blessed we have been in recent years. We may not have had a Triple Crown winner but we were treated to some valiant and exciting efforts by both our equine and human athletes. Let's appreciate them. They give us so much!

18 Dec 2009 11:26 AM
Marcia

Thank you Steve for this article.  Afleet Alex is one of the recent greats.  His Preakness was indeed a miracle win.  I had a co-worker ask me about modern day miracles and I told her about the Preakness and how the Angel of the Lord picked Alex up and sent him on to win.  Too many little hearts were watching him that day.  Can you imagine if he had fallen how that would have affected all of the children calling him home down the stretch!  What a courageous and valiant horse.  After that incident I found a kitten in a SUV, who herself had a courageous journey and I named her Alex in honor of Afleet Alex.  I hope that he does well as a stallion.  His courage and his physical abilities are much needed in the Thoroughbred gene pool.

Merry Christmas to all!

18 Dec 2009 12:07 PM
Sue

Does Carol Zacney ever visit Alex at Gainesway?  He is not happy there.

18 Dec 2009 12:15 PM
sunnysunrise

Great article--could you post a site so we could all see that fabulous race again?

18 Dec 2009 12:19 PM
Nicole

I remember my annual Kentucky Derby party had to be postponed to a Preakness party that year- I invite a bunch of non-racing fans over to watch the race.  What a show they got that year.  I remember one friend, after the 15th or so replay of the moment finally begged me to turn it off.  She said, "I know it's going to be okay, but it's still making my heart stop."  What a good year that Triple Crown was-Mike Smith finally got his Derby and Afleet Alex stumbled his way into our hearts.  I'm sorry we didn't get to see Alex at four, but I'm sure following the Baby Alexes.

18 Dec 2009 12:20 PM
MRO

I never liked Afleet Alex, but will admit his recovery in the Preakness was something to watch.

18 Dec 2009 1:07 PM
joe c.

I was fortunate to have a great seat at Alex's 2005 Belmont. The way he blasted by the field at the top of the stretch!  He remains one of my favorites, and despite early retirement would have been a deserving triple crown winner.  He should have been 2-year old champ.

18 Dec 2009 1:53 PM
Dianne

Afleet Alex is one of my all time favorite race horses and his Preakness will forever be part of the lore of the heart and courage of race horses.  I am wondering, though, how he is doing now.  He was such a human oriented horse, being imprinted by a young girl as a newborn foal and just liking the company of humans and being a friendly horse.  Stud farms tend to not be friends with their charges and while they may be well cared for, the emotional needs of some human oriented horses may be stunted.  I feel that Afleet Alex may be one of these.  Gainesway can be a very impersonal, businesslike farm.  I hope that the emotional needs of Alex, a friendly horse, are being met.  His happiness should be paramount.

18 Dec 2009 2:12 PM
Fran

I beg to differ with Sue about Afleet Alex not being happy at Gainesway. The Gainesway folk are the nicest and kindest people you could meet. Alex is well taken care of and by the flick of his tail and canter as I left him he knew he had a good home. Sure he probably misses everyone but they regularly visit Alex and love him deeply.

18 Dec 2009 3:20 PM
anne

Ive been in the racing business for most of my 50 years, but I can honestly say very few horses moved me like Afleet Alex.  I closely watched his career from his maiden win to his Belmont win, and there are so very few horses that have ever run with his extraordinary excelleration, whether running 6 furlongs or a mile and a half.  He was truly a superlative racehorse; hopefully we'll be able to watch his babies winning races for many years to come.

18 Dec 2009 3:42 PM
da3hoss

A truly beautiful athelete.

18 Dec 2009 5:02 PM
Footlick

I can't believe people are complaining about rabbits.  They have always been a part of racing and probably always will.  

18 Dec 2009 6:34 PM
Connie

This wonderful story has filled me with pride once again for my "Little Johnny".  That is what I called him when I foaled him and he's always been that to me.  He was named after his owner, John Silvertand.  

I will never forget that Preakness because my heart went into my throat when I saw him start to go down.  Then, that tenacious little colt came out in him and he blew by the others and won the race by 9 lengths.  Oh how proud I was and am of him.  

One never knows what may become of the foals that they wait for and deliver in the night.  "Little Johnny" was and is so special.  I could tell that from the start.  Long may he live; and, may his foals go on to great things!

18 Dec 2009 6:36 PM
robinm

Alex is one of my favorites ever.  His Preakness and Belmont were awesome.  Clearly, he was the best of his generation and probably should have been a triple crown winner.  I read somewhere that Jeremy took the blame for his loss in the KD.  I don't think he gave him a bad ride; just a little bad luck, and now I hear, a recurrence of the lung infection.

He was a tough one though, especially for a little guy. I remember when they were trying to bring him back after the fracture that he turned in a 6 furlong workout in 1:09 and change but when they xray'd him again, found the fracture hadn't entirely healed!  Thankfully, this was discovered before he was raced again.  It certainly apppears he is off to a great start in his new career.

Long live gutsy little horses!

18 Dec 2009 9:59 PM
Gin

That little tenacious colt will always be my hero! Thank You Steve for the tears and the great memories of that day.  Not getting that colostrum with only a 10% chance........and overcoming all from day one.........what a HORSE!!!!!!!!!!  I will always love you Alex!  

18 Dec 2009 10:35 PM
LAZMANNICK

If Spanish Chesnut was the rabbit in the 2005 Derby then I can only surmise that he was in to try and set the race up for Bandini as both were Tabor owned in partnership.  If this is true then the rabbit actually outfooted his more illustrius stablemate.  As much as I hate to say it, I don't see how this affected Alex.  He was far back early on and didn't really make a move until Spanish Chestnut was backing up.  The horse that should have been affected was Closing Argument who was well ahead of Alex early on and managed to stay on for second while nearly winning the race.  Another example of why a jock should run his race without worrying about the competition.

18 Dec 2009 11:33 PM
poor mans racehorse

Jeremy Rose's quote when asked by Donna Brothers how he stayed on was one of the best unscripted comments ever

"he's just that athletic and I was just that scared"

19 Dec 2009 12:35 AM
BELLWETHER

UNBELIEVEABLE!!!THE TALE...THE HORSE...THE JOCKEY...THE CONNECTIONS...I WAS THERE THE DAY TIM GOT HIM @ TEEMOE...STORIES LIKE THIS IS WHAT BRINGS & KEEPS REGULAR FOLK$ N THE GAME...& NEVER FORGET THE KING!!!...

19 Dec 2009 3:54 AM
Virgil Fox

This is gonna sound pretty cheesy, but this story reminds me of a line in the movie Rocky Balboa.

Rocky is speaking to his son and says something like: “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can GET hit.  It’s about how much you can take and keep moving forward.  That’s how winnin’ is done.”

------------------------------

Smarty Jones may have hooked me, but it was Afleet Alex who reeled me in.

So glad to see his runners doing so well.

Thanks again, Steve.

- Peace

19 Dec 2009 11:41 AM
draynay

No Footlick rabbits have not always been used in racing and most trainers have never used the so called "tactic".  Spanish Chestnut was making no effort to win the Derby only to hamper Bellamy Road and robbed us of a Triple Crown championship.  Running a horse to hamper another with no intention on winning is cheating as far as I am concerned and have had that opinion since day one and have talked to many trainers who feel the same way and have NEVER done it for that reason.

19 Dec 2009 3:49 PM
Footlick

Dray- I'm sorry to tell you but rabbits have been used since the 1800's in horse races.  hedvar and Great Power were making no effort to win the Woodward.  Huddle Up was making no effort to win the Jersey Derby.  The rabbits run against Bold Ruler were making no effort to win those races either.  But they have been around as long as thoroughbred racing.  Some have been used correctly and some have not, but they have always been a part of it.  Some horses overcame rabbits.  Bold Ruler overcame them sometimes.  Spend a Buck overcame one in the Jersey Derby.  Precisionist overcame them at the right distance.  Dr Fager overcame them at 4 but wasn't mature enough to overcome them at 3.  That's part of horse racing.  You can call it whatever you want, but great horses overcome things like that.  I never heard Dr Fager's trainer complain about the use of a rabbit, not Bold Ruler's, nor Spend a Buck's.  It's just another thing like carrying weight that used to be a test of greatness, but now is looked down upon.  If a horse is good enough or mature enough he overcomes the rabbit.  If not, but still runs a great race, then the reputation of the horse is enhanced.  Look at the pace that Spend a Buck ran in his Jersey Derby win.  And it was at 10 furlongs and he held off the Belmont winner.

19 Dec 2009 7:03 PM
Zookeeper

Let's see... What are the requirements to be labeled an "undeserving Derby winner"?

1) A horse who has never been on Draynay's ever changing list.

2) A horse who's style is not to Draynay's liking.

3) Last, but not least, a horse who has done all or most of his running outside of Kentucky or the East Coast.

In my humble opinion, it takes a special horse to win that race. If he (or she) crosses the finish line first, that horse is to be applauded...Not deemed "undeserving" by someone pretending to be a horseracing fan.

19 Dec 2009 11:03 PM
Ragsy

Thanks Steve for a wonderful story.

all horses are awesome.

20 Dec 2009 9:28 AM
da3hoss

Zookeeper, I agree. The horse that wins the Derby is always deserving, because it is the horse that overcomes the race, the post, the track, the speed, the lack of speed, various running styles of the other horses, track bias, temperament, et al... however it's played out...that's why they run the race.

20 Dec 2009 12:20 PM
Zookeeper

da3hoss,

You said it better than I ever could. Bravo!

20 Dec 2009 12:51 PM
hugs

to mararacing alex was the best horse by far they dont always win as we know all to well. giacamo wasnt enen good enough to carry alexs shoes and will be known as just another longshot who got super lucky to win the derby.i told my friends then that piacamo wouldnt win another race and...

20 Dec 2009 6:22 PM
Jermon

Footlick 19 Dec 7:03 PM - Your posting brings back memories of

the 1957 vintage crop of three year olds, which included Bold Ruler,

General Duke, Gallant Man, and Round Table. In the races leading

up to the Derby they broke one track record after another. One of

the rabbits you refer to was Calumet's second stringer, Iron Liege,

who was entered to soften up Bold Ruler for the ill-fated General

Duke. I don't recall anyone accusing Calumet or the Jones boys,

father and son, of cheating.

It is ironic that Iron Liege won the Derby when Shoemaker mis-

judged the finish line aboard Gallant Man. That's racing. Stuff

happens, particularly in the Derby.

20 Dec 2009 10:50 PM
Soldier Course

For those who have posted that Giacomo was a dubious Derby winner, you may be interested in knowing this: Two days before the 2005 Derby, a renowned and respected turf writer told me that Giacomo was sitting on a big race, and that he was his pick to win the Derby. Did I listen? No. Did I cry? Yes.

Virgil Fox:

I don't think the quote from "Rocky" was cheesy. In fact it brings to mind Smarty Jones and others.  

21 Dec 2009 11:26 AM
zarvona

Great story as usual, but we acspect no less from "The Man"...

Long live "Alex's Lemonade Stand!"

Can't wait for your first 'sack of potatoes' list... I have c. 150 colts and 130 fillies as 2 year olds on my lists already and I am sure, especially after the Nov. Keenland sale, that we will see that many more blossom before MAY and ... 'Greatest 2 minutes in Sports'.

Don't think we have seen the Derby winner yet, unless some one of these previously seen 2 year olds super matures, where certainly few in the Breeder's Juvenile races were very impressive!   "Z"

P.S. Remember me? I am the one who was high on a couple of 2 year old horses last year named "Dunkirk" & "Zensational" and one of my last comments was... "I think that we are going to hear from this horse "Summer Bird" again!" {{Still stunned by "My that Bird", but thena gain I was stunned when "Giacamo" beat "Afleet Alex" too!!!!!!!!!!!!!

21 Dec 2009 1:19 PM
jamesb

This was the first year we went to the Preakness, and our seats were way back under cover around the turn.

I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach and I half turned away when Scrappy T came out into him.

I think my heart was still pounding a half hour later.

Unbelievable.  

I still don't understand why Dominguez felt the need to hit Scrappy T left handed there.  And he wound up good too.  By my count, he hit Scrappy T three more times down the stretch and all were right handed.  Strange.

Of course, who expected to see AA flying like that?  It was someone shot him out of a rocket.

I'm still not a fan of Rose whipping AA down the stretch either.  He had to know ST was going to be dq'd and there was no one else a ride.  I think a hand ride would have sufficed.

AA is probably my second favorite horse since I've been following racing, and that race gave me feelings of elation, shock, dread, anger, and relief all in the span of about 30 seconds.  

Never experienced anything like it live.  Until the Pitt-Cincinnati game a few weeks ago.

21 Dec 2009 2:57 PM
jamesb

Virgil Fox:

That scene from Rocky is one of the best movie moments in history.  Should be a federal law that requires everyone to listen to it once a week.

21 Dec 2009 2:58 PM
Karen

Re: Question about what happened to Scrappy T.

Scrappy T retired before 2008. Now he lives on the Mason family property in Powhatan and currently living the good life, fox hunting with his handler Danielle.

(Source: www.pedigreequery.com/scrappy+t)

21 Dec 2009 5:16 PM
GunBow

Bittersweet memories.  Rest in peace Alex Scott.  And what ever happened to Mr. Silvertand?

As for Afleet Alex, I was at Churchill for the 2005 Derby, my first.  I was absolutely exhausted running from the infield(where I found a spot to catch about 15 seconds of each race) to the paddock to see the horses for the many stakes races, including the Derby.  The thing I found most surprising is that by the time of the Derby so many people are wasted that a person, with determination and some genetic luck(ie being tall), can get a good view of the Derby horses in the paddock and as they are led out onto the track under "My Old Kentucky Home".

During my exhausting day, I hit up Alex's Lemonade Stand a number of times, and apparently looked so disheveled that the final time they gave me a few cups for free.  Knowing it was going to charity, I paid anyways, but that was the spirit around the Stand.

At the top of the Derby stretch, I thought Afleet Alex was the winner, but he didn't get a clean run and came up just short.  Of course, his Preakness win was just amazing.  Would he have won by 10 lengths(and earned a 120+ Beyer) without "the incident"?

I was not at Pimlico for the Preakness, but I drove out for the Belmont where I met up with a childhood friend.  The 2005 Belmont was the first major race he had ever seen in person, and to this day he still talks with reverence about how Afleet Alex strutted about so confidently in the paddock before the race.  The fact that Afleet Alex, a gr.1 sprint winner at 2, was able to rate so kindly in the Belmont and then turn in a 24 second final quarter demonstartes just how gifted a horse he was.  I was devastated to hear about his injury weeks later because I truly believed that he would go on to win a handful of gr.1 races, given the ownership indicated an interest to run at 4.  Again, bittersweet.

21 Dec 2009 5:48 PM
DogDoc

Steve,

I want to thank you for letting us experience the thrills of racing. Many of us aren't able to make it to the track, but we can live it through your writing.

21 Dec 2009 11:06 PM
Soldier Course

GunBow:

John Martin Silvertand passed away three years ago, in January 2007, in Florida. As you may recall, he had had colon cancer.

21 Dec 2009 11:28 PM
GunBow

Thank you Soldier Course.  RIP Mr. Silvertand.  

22 Dec 2009 5:24 PM
mararacing

Hugs

Guess you were a bit embarassed then as Giacomo went on to San Diego H.-G2 as well as being GSP several times after the KD.  Giacomo didn't get a clear run in the Preakness, a common situation when a horse is a dead closer as is in his case.  As stated previously post, he didn't run a step in the Belmont because displaced his palate. Alex was retired after the Belmont, while Giacomo raced at 4. I happened to like both horses, both had their moments, so whatever.

23 Dec 2009 11:55 AM

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