I remember the year of 2004 well, that was the year of all the Smarty Jones Triple Crown Drama. In that years Derby I had watched the unbeaten Smarty Jones battle briefly with my favorite, Lion Heart, before soaring by to take the Derby. I remember Smarty demolishing the Preakness, pulling away effortlessly in the stretch to win by a record shatter margin of 11 lengths. Most vividly of all I remember the shock I felt when I watched Smarty Jones, empty in the final furlong, passed by the Nick Zito trained Birdstone.
Another thing about 2004 was that because of all the Triple Crown drama, I decided that this was the year I was really going to go out and look at some Juveniles to pin my hopes on for next year's Triple Crown. I remember seeing Declan's Moon, one of California's top two year old males, and the dynamite filly Sweetcatomine. Though all of these horses were very good in their own right the horse I fell in love with was Afleet Alex.
I first saw him going to post in the Hopeful Stakes. I had heard a little about his win in the Sanford and that he was a very promising Juvenile, but other than that nothing very significant. What first caught my eye about him was his facial markings. That small diamond like star that connected to a thing, almost disappearing stripe that ran down his face. Though zig-zaging all over the track is not the way to gain any good attention, I could not believe that he had run so greenly, and still won, I was simply amazed. I continued to watch Afleet Alex through the end of the year, capping off his season with two seconds in the Champagne Stakes and Breeders Cup Juvinile, promising a very bright three year old year.
When 2005 came I was not at all ready for the start of the three year old preps and ended up missing Afleet Alex in his debut. I soon learned of his win in the Mountain Valley Stakes and was ecstatic and pump up for his next start the Reble. Watching that race made my heart sink as I saw Afleet Alex struggle home dead last. It was later learned that Afleet Alex had run in the Rebel with a lung infection that had hindered his ability and cause him to perform so uncharacteristically bad. Awaiting the Arkansas Derby, which would be Afleet Alex's final prep for the Kentucky Derby, I wondered if he would redeem himself. Afleet Alex did more than that as he romped home by a record breaking eight lengths. Now it was on to Kentucky.
As Derby Day came I was pumped and ready for a Derby massacre, I was so sure Afleet Alex would bulldoze right over anybody in his path. After sitting about seven lengths from the lead I watched as Afleet Alex among other made a strong move to challenge for the lead. As they turned for home Afleet Alex had a narrow lead, but the strong pace, wide rally, and first turn wrestling had taken it's toll. Afleet Alex was slowly wilting and my heart sank to the floor as I watch Closing Argument and Giacomo fly past him in the final strides before the wire.
Afleet Alex would come back in the Preakness to exact his revenge. On the far turn he made his sling shot move that sent him catapulting around horse to what looked to be a sure and dominant victory. Just as they were entering the stretch and Afleet Alex only a length off the lead Scrappy T bore out sharply clipping heals with Afleet Alex, who nearly went to his knee's with his nose a mere inch from the dirt. In one of the best displays of pure guts and atheism I or any other racing fan has ever witnessed, Afleet Alex gathered himself back up and like a bullet shot around Scrappy T drawing away to win by nearly five lengths. The world of racing was left in a state of shock at what Afleet Alex had just done.
The Preakness would set the stage for a rubber match in the Preakness, if you can call it that. The announcer of the race said it best saying "Afleet Alex runs by Giacomo like he's standing still!", as Afleet Alex made his Paten burst around the turn, sweeping by the rest of the field and drawing away from the Belmont field by an authoritative seven lengths in a dazzling display of talent and greatness.
Unfortunately Afleet Alex was found with a fracture and would be knocked out for the year, to be brought back as a four year old. His return to racing was not meant to be, it was later revealed to the public that around the fracture a small portion of the bone was becoming brittle. It was said that a deep bruise must have gone undetected and was probably sustained when Afleet Alex saved himself from his near disaster in the Preakness.
Afleet Alex was so talented and had show glimpses of greatness in his final two starts. His finest moment was the moment of his downfall, when he displayed his heart, showing true courage only found in true champions. There is no telling what he could have done if he had been healthy enough to run one more year, most, including myself, believe he would've gone on to do even greater things and scale larger mountains. For his unbelievable level of talent and his sheer courage and will to win, he is recognized. What he accomplished on the track was great and with his sudden departure all we can do is dream. Dream of what could have been.....