A quarter-mile from glory and eight inches from disaster, that’s where jockey Jeremy Rose found himself Saturday evening.
Rose was aboard Afleet Alex, the favorite in the 130th running of the Preakness Stakes, when the Florida-bred colt, running second, clipped heels with the leader, Scrappy T, a quarter-mile from the finish line.
Afleet Alex, third in the Kentucky Derby only two weeks before, stumbled badly, miraculously recovered and went on to win the race by 4 3/4 lengths in front of a record crowd of 115,318 at Pimlico.
It was the first Triple Crown victory for Rose, for trainer Tim Ritchey and for the Cash Is King stable, the five-person ownership group that last year paid a mere $75,000 for the bay colt as an unraced 2-year-old.
Scrappy T finished second, and Derby winner Giacomo, the third-favorite and the sentimental choice for many fans after his momentous upset at Churchill Downs, finished third.
But it was the near fall that was the talk of the race.
How close had Afleet Alex come to going down?
“Truthfully, in over 30 years [as a trainer] I’ve seen some horses take some bad steps in races and still win,” Ritchey said. “I’ve never seen a horse stumble that badly and lose momentum that much and come back on and win in a Grade I race like this. That’s the first I’ve ever seen it.”
Rose, 26, put it more precisely. Afleet Alex, he said, had dirt on his nose from where it brushed the ground.
“He was not eight inches from going down,” Rose said. “That’s the closest I’ve ever been without hitting the ground.... I thought for sure we were going down.”
With Giacomo and the rest of the field of 14 thundering behind as the horses turned for home, Rose was seriously concerned about being trampled. That was motivation enough for him to clutch desperately at Afleet Alex’s mane.
“I have relatively good balance and fear makes you very, very strong,” he said. “I was willing to hang on.”
Once he had recovered, Afleet Alex breezed past Scrappy T and crossed the wire in 1:55.04, the fastest time in the 1 3/16 -mile race since 1998. The track had dried out well after Friday’s heavy rain and was rated fast.
The winner paid $8.60, $5 and $3.20. Scrappy T, ridden by Ramon Dominguez for trainer Robbie Bailes, hung on to take second, paying $11.20 and $5.80. The Kentucky-bred gelding, who has never finished out of the top three in 10 lifetime starts, finished five lengths in front of Giacomo, who paid $4.80.
The rest of the field, in order of finish, consisted of Sun King, High Limit, Noble Causeway, Greeley’s Galaxy, Malibu Moonshine, Closing Argument, High Fly, Hal’s Image, Wilko, Galloping Grocer and Going Wild.
Like Rose, Dominguez was happy to have stayed aboard.
“My horse felt like he was looking around when we came into the stretch, but I wasn’t expecting him to have any problems,” he said.
“When I hit him left-handed, he didn’t like it and came out unexpectedly. It completely caught me off guard. I didn’t feel a bump, but he did lose his rear action. I’m just happy me and Jeremy didn’t come off.”
Giacomo, third from last along the backstretch, made a strong run to finish third, but jockey Mike Smith said the pace and the traffic in front of him hurt his chances.
“My horse ran dynamite,” he said, “but I had to idle a very long way and that really hurts you in this type of race. He galloped out great, so I know he’ll come back strong in his next race.”
Giacomo’s trainer, John Shirreffs, was succinct in his appraisal.
“I don’t think there was any embarrassment in running third in the Preakness,” he said.
Ritchey said he believed Afleet Alex came out of the race in sound condition despite the scare and, if that proves the case, he intends running him in the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont Stakes on June 11.
“I looked at him and my assistant looked at him and I didn’t see any nicks, cuts or scrapes,” Ritchey said. “We’re going to have to look at him very carefully in the next couple of days because his body was stretched in a way that horses don’t normally have their body stretched.
“I think he’ll go a mile and a half without a problem. I always have. We’ve got three weeks to prepare him.
“I was just happy that Jeremy was athletic enough to stay on the horse and that the horse was athletic enough to overcome clipping heels and almost going down. And then still get up and win the race. It was an amazing performance. He did something champions do today.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978. How the Kentucky Derby winner has fared in the Preakness since then:
*--* Year Horse Finish 2005 Giacomo 3rd 2004 Smarty Jones Won 2003 Funny Cide Won 2002 War Emblem Won 2001 Monarchos 6th 2000 Fusaichi Pegasus 2nd 1999 Charismatic Won 1998 Real Quiet Won 1997 Silver Charm Won 1996 Grindstone DNR 1995 Thunder Gulch 3rd 1994 Go For Gin 2nd 1993 Sea Hero 5th 1992 Lil E. Tee 5th 1991 Strike The Gold 6th 1990 Unbridled 2nd 1989 Sunday Silence Won 1988 Winning Colors 3rd 1987 Alysheba Won 1986 Ferdinand 2nd 1985 Spend A Buck DNR 1984 Swale 7th 1983 Sunny’s Halo 6th 1982 Gato Del Sol DNR 1981 Pleasant Colony Won 1980 Genuine Risk 2nd 1979 Spectacular Bid Won
Source: Associated Press and L.A. Times
The Old 2-3
Horses who have completed the Preakness-Belmont double and how they fared in the Derby:
*--* Year Horse Derby 1877 Cloverbrook DNR 1878 Duke Of Magenta DNR 1880 Grenada DNR 1881 Saunterer DNR 1895 Belmar DNR 1920 Man O’ War DNR 1922 Pillory DNR 1940 Bimelech 2nd 1949 Capot 2nd 1953 Native Dancer 2nd 1955 Nashua 2nd 1967 Damascus 3rd 1974 Little Current 5th 1988 Risen Star 3rd 1991 Hansel 10th 1994 Tabasco Cat 6th 2001 Point Given 5th