Preakness winner 'looks good' despite near spill

Updated: May 23, 2005, 4:15 PM ET
By Richard Rosenblatt | Associated Press

BALTIMORE - Other than a slightly scraped left ankle, Afleet Alex seems in perfect shape after his remarkable victory in the Preakness Stakes.

A relieved trainer Tim Ritchey delivered the good news Sunday as he leaned against a fence near the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course. A few yards away, Afleet Alex grazed quietly, as if his brush with catastrophe in Saturday's race had never happened.

"I've never seen him get upset about anything, ever," Ritchey said. "He has never shied or spooked from anything he's been exposed to. He is Mr. Laid Back."

Ritchey said Afleet Alex would remain at Pimlico a few more days, then head to New York for the Belmont Stakes on June 11.

"He seems to be fine," Ritchey said, "but what concerns me are muscle injuries because he was contorted in a way horses aren't meant to be. He walked well this morning, he ate everything and he certainly looks good now."

Before pulling off to a 4 3/4-length victory, a frightening collision with Scrappy T at the top of the stretch sent Afleet Alex to his knees, with jockey Jeremy Rose hanging on for dear life.

"It could have been horrific," Rose said.

Incredibly, Afleet Alex and Rose gathered themselves, regained their momentum and won in sensational fashion, with Scrappy T second and Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo third.

Ritchey, a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fans, was happy to equate Afleet Alex's "big play" in the Preakness with one pulled off by his favorite team.

"The Steelers had the Immaculate Reception," Ritchey said. "What do you call this? The Immaculate Recovery?"

Ritchey said the bruise is in back of the left front ankle, where Afleet Alex's left hind leg clipped his front leg "whenever he had to get himself off the ground."

The trainer credited the athleticism of Afleet Alex and Rose, a former wrestler, for averting what could have been a disastrous spill.

"They're hand in hand," Ritchey said. "The horse has to maintain his balance, but the rider has to maintain his balance on top of the horse. It was a combination of things -- and a lot of luck, too."

After watching replays of the collision, Ritchey said Afleet Alex's nose was about 4 inches from the ground. Rose said "4 to 6 inches at 40 miles per hour, and that's way too close for comfort."

Afleet Alex finished third in the Derby, beaten in the final strides by 50-1 long shot Giacomo, with Closing Argument second at almost 72-1. What if Alex held on, and a Triple Crown was on the line in the Belmont?

"If you look back, you'll drive yourself crazy," Ritchey said. "We're grateful to win the Preakness and have a horse in good shape after that eventful race."

Trainer Nick Zito hasn't gone crazy, but his Triple Crown season has gone haywire. Two weeks after failing to win the Derby with a record-tying five horses, the best he could do with three Preakness starters was fourth with Sun King. Noble Causeway was sixth, and second-favorite High Fly was 10th in the 14-horse field.

"You can't win everything," Zito said.

Zito will be back for the Belmont, most likely with Andromeda's Hero (eighth in the Derby) and Pinpoint, who won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard.

The trainer also said beaten Derby favorite Bellamy Road, sidelined with a popped splint (bone), could return to training in a few weeks and be ready to race at Saratoga this summer.

Giacomo, scheduled to return to California on Sunday, appears to be the only other Preakness starter being considered for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.

Other Belmont possibles include Buzzards Bay (fifth in the Derby), Southern Africa and Shamoan. The Belmont will be run for the first time in four years without a Triple Crown on the line.

Watch the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 11 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press