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The broken dreams that befell Afleet Alex in the 2005 Kentucky Derby were mostly caused by the roadblock of horses he met while trying to make a mid-stretch run.
The unwieldy field had become an unyielding impediment when they blocked his path to the front.
Afleet Alex was a come-from-behind horse. He and his entourage of handlers could expect problems at times. But finding no running room in the Kentucky Derby of all places was more than just “bad racing luck.”
Right from the day he was born, Dame Fortune had not been good to Afleet Alex.
A day after he was foaled on May 9, 2002, his mother was sickened and was unable to nurse him. The staff at John Silvertand’s farm in Florida was able to get her “mother’s milk” and its antibodies and nutrients and feed the smallish youngster with a bottle.
More than week after his birth, a mare was found that could nurse him. His progress was more normal and he matured much the same as other foals.
As a yearling, he was auctioned for $150,000. And a year later auctioned again for $75,000 as a 2-year-old to a small group of five lifetime friends from Philadelphia. His pedigree was something to consider because his relatives along his bloodline included Northern Dancer, the ever-present Mr. Prospector, Raise A Native, Roberto, Bold Ruler, Native Dancer, Nashua, Tom Fool and Nureyev.
After being purchased a second time, Afleet Alex’s racing future was in the hands of Cash Is King Stable and its trainer, Tim Ritchey.
That future became the past in a short few months after he had wins in the graded Sanford Stakes and the Grade I Hopeful Stakes. He was second in the Champagne Stakes and year-ending Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Just after the first stakes win in the Sanford, the media began to make comparisons between his first weeks of sheer survival and the fight with cancer being waged by six-year-old Alexandra “Alex” Scott.
Despite her cancer, Alex Scott had opened a front-yard lemonade stand. After already receiving publicity for what she was going to do, she raised $2,000 the first day. The next Saturday, her patrons bought enough lemonade to raise an additional $40,000.
Alex’s Lemonade Stands went up all across the country and those supporters raised $220,000 in a single day.
Alex Scott eventually was able to raise over $2 million for cancer research.
Because of his near-death experience and penchant for rushing from behind, his intelligence and cooperative behavior, Afleet Alex had a large and growing legion of fans.
Owner Silvertand, who was himself diagnosed with a life-threatening form of cancer, pledged a portion of his thoroughbred’s earnings to Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
It seemed nobody was disappointed in the showing the late-running brown colt had made in his first year at it.
By the end of 2004, the plans for him pointed to one central race — the Kentucky Derby.
After posting an impressive win in a fast time in a stakes at Oaklawn Park (Arkansas), trouble came back for a visit. With an undetected lung infection, he was last in the Rebel Stakes in Arkansas. That would be the last time he would be ridden by John Velazquez. The athletic Jeremy Rose was given the mount.
With Rose aboard and his health back where it should be, Afleet Alex romped home to win the Arkansas Derby by eight lengths.
On Kentucky Derby day, he was one of the bettors’ favorites since he was coming in with two straight victories.
At the end of that problem-filled race, he was third, beaten by only by about six feet. He had been blocked. Rose had to twice alter his course. Adequate running room never materialized. Rose was downcast for he blamed himself for making in-race judgments and snap decisions that went unrewarded.
The Preakness was next.
The field was smaller, but there were still 14 entries.
Per usual, Rose had Afleet Alex back in the pack, saundering along in 10th place after a half-mile.
Then Rose moved him. The coordinated twosome moved to the outside . . . and moved past them all except the leader, Scrappy T.
It was then that one of the most dramatic happenings ever seen in any Triple Crown race took place.
On the final turn, Afleet Alex quickly approached the shortened stride of Scrappy T, whose rider, Ramon Dominquez, used his stick with left-handed authority in an attempt to keep his horse on the lead.
However, Scrappy T veered severely into the path of the on-coming Afleet Alex. The two horses “clipped heels” or bumped bodies.
Afleet Alex lurched forward with such force that he stumbled badly and his nose came within inches of the ground. Jockey Rose was brought far off the thoroughbred’s back and nearly fell to the ground.
But Dame Fortune was respectful of horse and rider that afternoon.
Not only did they both somehow keep from falling, Rose got Afleet Alex back in full stride again. And the two ran away to a nearly five-length win.
If you have never seen a replay of the 2005 Preakness Stakes, rev up your computer and watch the video of one of thoroughbred racing’s most dangerous, yet most rewarding moments.
Three weeks after the stunning win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown series, it was time for the Belmont Stakes at one-mile-and-a-half.
Afleet Alex and Rose put on a proper show.
Jetting past Giacomo (the Kentucky Derby champion), Rose and his fast-moving colt appeared to be skipping over the racing surface as they rocketed along with the ever-increasing lead.
The winning margin was seven lengths. To this day, Afleet Alex still has the second-fastest last quarter-mile in Belmont Stakes history. Secretariat has the fastest time.
All three jewels of the Triple Crown, along with NBC and ESPN had placed their spotlights directly on Alex’s Lemonade Stands. On the Saturday of the Belmont Stakes, there were 30 racetracks in the country that stood the lemonade stands. And those stands combined to raise over a quarter-million dollars.
Afleet Alex had become a rallying point for those wanting to cast their affections behind an underdog. And when the stories of Alex Scott and her lemonade stand and owner Silvertand’s cancer became widespread, the country could breathe one of racing’s most emotional stories.