BALTIMORE – In a miraculous recovery, Afleet Alex (search) kept his balance after being knocked to his knees by Scrappy T at the top of the stretch and won the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.
Kentucky Derby (search) winner Giacomo was never a factor and finished third, ending his bid to attempt a Triple Crown try in the Belmont Stakes.
The frightening scene occurred as a full field of 14 3-year-olds turned for home. Scrappy T, ridden by Ramon Dominguez (search), went wide off the turn as the jockey was whipping left-handed, and the gelding drifted into the path of Afleet Alex, who was just behind.
Afleet Alex's front legs buckled, his head bowed and the colt almost fell, nearly unseating jockey Jeremy Rose as the crowd gasped.
"I thought for sure we were going to have a roll," Rose said.
But somehow, Rose managed to stay on as Afleet Alex regained his momentum, neatly cut to the inside and went on to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.
With tragedy incredibly averted — such stumbles have led to the deaths of horses and jockeys being trampled — Afleet Alex sailed home with a sweet 43/4-length victory, marking the fifth straight year the Preakness favorite has delivered.
Giacomo, who staged the second-biggest upset in Derby history two weeks ago at 50-1 odds, was unable to pull off another win as the gray colt never threatened.
And for just the third time in nine years, the Belmont will be run without a Triple Crown on the line.
Rose thrust his arm in the air after crossing the finish line, and then said he was amazed Afleet Alex was able to recover.
"He's just that athletic and I was just that scared," Rose said. "He's just an amazing horse that I think put all doubters to shame there."
While Giacomo's Derby win was a stunner, Afleet Alex's made perfect sense. The son of Northern Afleet ran a sensational race in the Derby as the second choice behind favorite Bellamy Road, only to be caught in the final strides by Giacomo and Closing Argument at almost 72-1.
But not this time, not even after being banged around.
Afleet Alex, now headed to the Belmont in three weeks, covered the 1 3-16 miles in 1:55.04, well off the record of 1:53.40.
Afleet Alex, the 3-1 favorite, returned $8.60, $5 and $3.20. Scrappy T, who held on for second despite a steward's review, paid $11.20 and $5.80. Giacomo, the third choice at 6-1, paid $4.80.
Dominguez, riding Scrappy T for the first time, apologized for the collision.
"I'm sorry for the incident," Dominguez said. "The horse completely caught me off-guard. I decided to hit him left-handed and it caught him completely off-guard, because he just made a right-hand turn. I had no control over the situation."
Sun King was fourth, followed by High Limit, Noble Causeway, Greeley's Galaxy, Malibu Moonshine, Closing Argument, High Fly, Hal's Image, Wilko, Galloping Grocer and Going Wild.
And so the Afleet Alex party is on — perhaps two weeks later than expected — and there's a large contingent celebrating, led by the five Philadelphia-area friends who bought the horse for $75,000 last year just up the road at the Timonium 2-year-old sales.
Afleet Alex has also touched the colt's breeder, who has terminal cancer, and the parents of an 8-year-old girl who died of cancer last August.
And now they have the classic victory they wanted so badly.
Afleet Alex, who loves to run just off the lead, was 10th in the early going. The bay colt who weighs "just under 1,000 pounds," according to trainer Tim Ritchey, moved into contention on the final turn. It appeared he was about to make the same explosive move he used to win the Arkansas Derby, and that's when one of the scariest moments in Preakness history took place.
Scrappy T, one of four new shooters who did not compete in the Derby, took the lead from pacesetter High Limit around the turn. But coming out of it, Scrappy T was unable to cleanly make the turn.
"I thought he was on the ground," Ritchey said. "I couldn't believe he got up and won the race."
Trainer Nick Zito struck out again in the Preakness. Two weeks after failing to win the Derby with five horses, he missed again with three horses. Sun King was fourth, Noble Causeway was sixth and High Fly was 10th.
In the $1 million Preakness, Afleet Alex earned $650,000 to boost his career bankroll to $2,165,800. The colt has won seven of 11 races.
Afleet Alex was a brilliant 2-year-old, winning his first four starts, including the Sanford and Hopeful at Saratoga. He was second in the Champagne and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after a troubled trip, and came into the year as a leading Derby contender.
But after winning a stakes race at Oaklawn Park, Afleet Alex finished last in the Rebel Stakes, and Ritchey said his colt had developed a lung infection. Afleet Alex bounced back and won the Arkansas Derby by a record eight lengths to restore his reputation.
John Silvertand, the 60-yeard-old breeder, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2002 and given three months to live. But he said the effort to get Afleet Alex to the Triple Crown races gave him extra incentive to survive.
Cash Is King Stable, which owns Afleet Alex, is donating part of their horse's earning to Alex's Lemonade Stand, a children's cancer charity they learned about after reading a story in the newspaper. The lemonade stand was set up at Pimlico, as it was at Churchill Downs.
Alexandra Scott was diagnosed with cancer two days before her first birthday, in 1997. She opened the lemonade stand when she was 4, hoping to raise $1 million for her hospital. The girl died last August, and Chuck Zacney, Cash Is King's managing partner, was so moved that he pledged $30,000 to the charity.
Another donation is on the way.
Nobody would have thought any of this was possible when Alex was a baby. With his mother unable to nurse her foal, Silvertand's daughter fed the horse out of a Coors Lite bottle with a nipple on top. A few days later, a nurse mare arrived and Afleet Alex was on his way to the races.
"An amazing story," Ritchey has said. "I'm proud to be part of it."