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Dec 17, 2004



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.

Says Cordero:

"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

won"t happen.

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

 Proud Accolade.

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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