Dec 17, 2004
By: JOHN PIESEN
Trainer Tim Ritchey dropped a bombshell yesterday when he
announced that Jeremy Rose is off Afleet Alex...and that John Velazquez is on.
I have several thoughts about this development:
1) Won"t it be a bit awkward for Ritchey and Rose this spring at
Oaklawn Park? Ritchey will campaign 38 (or more) horses at Oaklawn,
which opens Jan. 21, and Rose conceivably will ride 37 of them. Johnny
V will ride the other one -- Afleet Alex in the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby.
2) I"m not shocked that Rose is off Afleet Alex. He rode the colt horribly
in the Hopeful, Champagne (in which maybe ironically he was undressed
by Johnny V), and in the Breeders" Cup Juvenile.
3) I am not surprised that Rose lost the mount. But I am surprised that
Jerry Bailey didn"t get the mount. Bailey has been trying for months to
get on Afleet Alex, and he told Daily Racing Form yesterday that he plans
to ride in 2005 with the hope of getting a good 3-year-old. I just assumed
that good 3-year-old was going to be Afleet Alex. When was the last time
that Bailey went down swinging?
4) Ritchey told me last week that Rose will keep the mount on Afleet Alex.
I guess he changed his mind.
5) The switch to Velazquez means that old buddy Angel Cordero Jr. becomes
a major Triple Crown player in "05. As a Hall of Fame rider, Cordero won
three Kentucky Derbys. As Velazquez" agent, he has yet to win a Triple Crown race.
"We are thrilled that Mr. Ritchey chose Johnny. We feel that Afleet Alex is
the best 2-year-old in the country right now. It"s kind of like a courtship.
You know this is the one. You make a commitment. You get engaged, and
your plan is to walk down the aisle together. The first Saturday in May is not
a bad date to be walking down the aisle."
The readers of this column have been saturated with Afleet Alex news since
last July. Alex won his first two starts at Delaware Park by a pole, then took
the Sanford and the Hopeful at Saratoga. He ran faster than Secretariat in
winning the Sanford, and he overcame a horrendous trip in the Hopeful.
In the Champagne, Velazquez gave Rose a riding lesson, and Proud Accolade
beat Afleet Alex. And we all saw what happened to Alex in the Breeders" Cup,
a race in which he was a day and a half the best.
"Alex had the trip from hell in the Breeders" Cup," Ritchey was telling me
from Hot Springs. "There"s no doubt that I ran the best horse."
There"s also no doubt in my mind that the two best 2-year-olds on the planet
are Afleet Alex and Rockport Harbor. And since they are on a collision course
at Oaklawn Park, we should know by April who is the better horse.
On the other hand, Daily Racing Form for weeks has drummed up tomorrow"s
Hollywood Futurity as a championship race. The Form tells us that any one
of three horses -- Declan"s Moon, Proud Accolade or Wilco -- can clinch the
Eclipse with a victory.
This is total nonsense.
Proud Accolade? Afleet Alex, despite his trip from hell, blew by Proud Accolade
in the Breeders" Cup.
Declan"s Moon? If he wins tomorrow, he"ll be 4-for-4, the same record as
Rockport Harbor. And the last I looked, Rockport Harbor was the 7-1
favorite in the Vegas Futures, and Declan"s Moon the co-fifth choice at 15-1.
Wilco? Are you kidding? A Futurity victory would make him 4-for-12. How
does that compare to Rockport Harbor (4-for-4) or Afleet Alex
There are five other horses in the Futurity, several of whom act like runners.
I would love to see one of those five win the race, but that probably
And isn"t it interesting that Velazquez, with his choice of Proud Accolade or
Afleet Alex for the Triple Crown campaign, already has chosen Afleet Alex?
I wonder how trainer Pletcher feels about that.
And a final bit of irony:
Velazquez will deny Afleet Alex the 2-year-old title if he wins the Futurity on
How can you knock Johnny V? He tops the national standings this year with
$22 million in purses, and he has won 40 graded stakes, including
Breeders" Cup events with Ashado and Speighstown.
I don"t know who had a worse week -- Gene Short, Jeremy Rose"s agent,
or the boys down at the New York Racing Association.
The big news at Aqueduct Wednesday was supposed to be the
Pick Six carryover. Then at mid-day, officers and investigators from the
New York State Police, using search warrants, raided the track -- as well
as Belmont Park and Saratoga. So much for the Pick Six.
A dramatic three-column photo in Thursday"s New York Times showed
four police officers hauling out cartons of records through the Aqueduct
main gate. The Form, and the three New York dailies all ran pieces that had
to be most embarrassing to the folks at NYRA.
It seems that the focus on the investigation is the fact that jockeys cheat on
their weights, and the powers that be cover it up. As far as I know, this is
a practice that has been going on since the Coolidge Administration,
and -- until now -- nothing has been done to punish the perpetrators.
Usually, a rider, after weighing in a couple of pounds high, will ask the clerk
of scales to fudge his weight. And the clerk of scales will comply, usually
getting a little something extra at Christmas for his troubles.
Apparantly, someone ratted to the authorities about this age-old practice,
and the result was Wednesday"s raid straight out of NYPD central casting.
Wednesday was also NYRA chairman Barry Schwartz"s last day on the job.
Talk about a farewell gift!
And talk about strange timing...
Moments after the raid, a group called Friends of New York Racing
(FONY to be sure) announced plans to clean up the game. The key will be getting
slots onto the premises of Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.
FONY"s point man is Tim Smith, the same Tim Smith who turned down
Schwartz"s job last summer.
On a brighter note...
A standardbred owner last year named a yearling Ken Warkenton for the
Meadowlands announcer. The four-legged Ken Warkenton went on to win
eight of nine races at 2, and will be named the champion 2-year-old trotter.
He also will be the winter book favorite for the Hambletonian next July.
What"s more, a half-brother to Ken Warkenton (the trotter) brought $290,000
at the Harrisburg Yearlings Sale this Fall. This trotter will race at 2 next year
under the name Bob Heyden, the Big M"s stat maven.
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