Afleet Afoot? Balanceof power with Alex

May 24, 2005 7:04 AM

Alex would have been called for walking. Call it the Preposterous Preakness or the Near-Fall in Baltimore.

"He’s that athletic and I was that scared," is how Rose explained the miraculous recovery.

NBC’s analysts compared the mishap to Alysheba’s near-spill in the stretch when he clipped heels with Bet Twice in the 1987 Derby, but that was like a stroll down the aisle for a graduation ceremony next to what happened to Afleet Alex. It’s a tape that elicits a "wow!" every time it’s seen.

If Giacomo, a non-menacing third in the Preakness after registering a 50-1 upset in the Derby, were to have won the Preakness and gone on to capture the Belmont, he would have become the 12th horse to do so, joining icons Affirmed (1978), Seattle slew (1977), Secretariat (1973), Citation (1948), Assault (1946), Count Fleet (1943), Whirlaway (1941), War Admiral (1937), Omaha (1935), Gallant Fox (1930) and Sir Barton (1919).

Racing will have to wait another year and another Kentucky Derby before that opportunity arises again.

"War Emblem was a good horse," said Baffert, who trained the front-runner. "People underestimated him. The only reason he didn’t win the Belmont, aside from his bad start, was he was a little light on me after winning the first two legs. Real Quiet should have won it. Same thing for Smarty Jones last year.

"It’s tough to win the Triple Crown not so much because the three races are five weeks apart, but because the competition is so tough. These are the best 3-year-olds and they’re all firing at one another at the same time."

Afleet Alex, who paid a generous 3-1 as the tepid Preakness choice, will be a much shorter price in the Belmont on June 11, even if Bellamy Road makes the race, which I hope he does.

Because I’m betting on Afleet Alex. I picked him in the Derby and while he didn’t win, at least he didn’t embarrass me, like some horses did to some selectors, and I stayed with him for the Preakness, even though some selectors went out to left field trying to find a winner.

Analyzing can simply be overdone. Study long, study wrong. Noble Causeway, Greeley’s Galaxy, Closing Argument, High Fly. Wise guys loved them in the Preakness and those horses are still running. Afleet Alex will have detractors in the Belmont, despite his dominating Preakness victory. They’ll say a mile and a half is beyond his scope. Let them say it, because the horse has two major advantages: he’s the best horse and he’s not going for the Triple Crown.

THE HOMESTRETCH

Kent Desormeaux has changed agents more than Liz Taylor has changed husbands. His latest is Tommy Ball, who replaces Harry (The Hat) Hacek.

"Kent is riding in Japan for another five weeks," Ball said. "He will be at Hollywood Park on Memorial Day because they race in Japan on Saturday and Sunday, so it will give him an opportunity to visit his family and perhaps pick up a mount or two. He’ll go back to Japan after that, then return here for good the middle of June. Kent and I have been good personal friends, not race track-related, and this happened at the right time for us to get together after Harry resigned. Kent called me, we went over a few things and thought it would work."

”¡ Some folks inferred it was Desormeaux’s ride in the Derby that compromised the chances of Greeley’s Galaxy, but there was no criticism of David Flores, who rode the horse to a seventh-place finish in the Preakness, nearly 20 lengths behind Afleet Alex.

”¡ Here’s why racing is in trouble. An hour after the Preakness, KNX, the biggest news radio station in Los Angeles, led its sports segment with women’s basketball, followed by a golf tournament in which Tiger Woods did NOT play. The Preakness was the third item.

”¡ Do you think Nick (Zero) Zito is off the paparazzi path after firing blanks with eight starters in the first two legs of the Triple Crown? Shakespeare said it best: "Much ado about nothing."

”¡ Wayne Lukas has an enviable resume, but if he runs Going Wild in the Belmont after getting beat nearly 133 lengths in his last four races, he’s going to be picketed by PETA.