NEW YORK – No acrobatics, no long shots. Just an overpowering, seven-length victory by Afleet Alex (search) in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.
The Preakness winner came through with his usual burst of speed turning for home, with jockey Jeremy Rose waiting for precisely the right moment to blow away Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo (search) and nine other rivals.
Without a Triple Crown (search) at stake for the first time in four years, racing fans had to settle for crowning a Preakness-Belmont winner. Afleet Alex overcame a near disaster to win at Pimlico last month. In the Derby, the colt was unable to hold off a stretch run by a pair of long shots and finished third.
"He should be a Triple Crown winner, but I messed up (in the Derby)," Rose said.
But two out of three ain't bad, with Afleet Alex becoming just the 11th thoroughbred to win the Preakness and Belmont after running in the Derby. Among the elite group are Native Dancer, Nashua and Damascus, each of whom just missed in the Derby.
Afleet Alex won his rubber match with Giacomo with ease. The son of Northern Afleet finished ahead of Andromeda's Hero, with Giacomo finishing seventh in the field of 11 3-year-olds. Nolan's Cat was third.
Afleet Alex became just the second favorite in the last 10 years to win the Belmont, where four of the previous six races produced huge payoffs. Last year, Birdstone spoiled Smarty Jones' Triple Crown try and returned $74 for a $2 win ticket. In 2002, Sarava won and paid $142.50.
Afleet Alex dropped back early as long shot Pinpoint towed the field through a moderate pace. Giacomo, with Mike Smith aboard, was right off the leaders and made his move on the final sweeping turn at Belmont Park. But just when it looked as though the Derby winner was going to roll to victory, Afleet Alex burst through and stormed into the lead.
Giacomo never mounted another threat and faded in the stretch, while trainer Nick Zito finally hit the board in this year's Triple Crown series with Andromeda's Hero. It was Zito's sixth runner-up finish in the Belmont, and a year after he won with Birdstone.
Winning time for the race was 2:28.75, well off Secretariat's record of 2:24 in 1973.
Nolan's Cat, winless in five previous starts, was 6 3/4 lengths behind Andromeda's Hero. Indy Storm was fourth, followed by A.P. Arrow, Chekhov, Giacomo, Southern Africa, Watchmon, Reverberate and Pinpoint.
Sent off as the even-money favorite by the crowd of 62,274, Afleet Alex returned $4.30, $3.60 and $3. Andromeda's Hero, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, paid $8.20 and $5.80. Nolan's Cat, with Norberto Arroyo Jr., paid $7.20 to show.
Smith said Giacomo had a breathing problem during the race. "He flipped his palate real bad, you can hear it. He made a loud, roaring noise."
Winning trainer Tim Ritchey laid out his ideal race Friday, noting that Rose needed patience in such a long race. He was.
"All I kept saying was, `Be patient, be patient, be patient. Wait, wait, wait,' " Ritchey said. "He just exploded. That was the plan. With these big, wide turns, you have to save all the ground you can. Jeremy Rose has now ridden three Triple Crown races like a Hall of Famer."
Afleet Alex, with his eighth win in 12 starts, earned $600,000 from the $1 million purse and boosted his bankroll to $2,765,800.
The handsome bay colt has become more than a racehorse for Cash Is King Stable, which was formed by five friends from the Philadelphia area who bought Afleet Alex for $75,000 last year. Part of the colt's earnings are being donated to pediatric cancer research through Alex's Lemonade Stand.
The stand was started by 4-year-old Alex Scott, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer two days before her first birthday, in 1997. Alex died last August, but the owners, and Ritchey, have become part of the fund-raising drive and more than $2 million has been raised.
"There's more to life than just horse racing," Ritchey said the day before the Belmont, "... and this is part of it."