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Mar 11, 2005

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Last Friday, I wrote in this space that the most significant race of the

 weekend will be the Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn Park, thanks no

doubt to the surprise appearance of Afleet Alex, who everyone knows is

head-and-head with Rockport Harbor for top gun in the 3-year-old division.

It's good to be right for a change.

Afleet Alex was so much the best 3-year-old of the weekend it wasn't close.

 He looked like Damascus in the Travers looping his field to win going away,

equaling the stakes record in the process, and obtaining a career-high 106

Beyer in the process.

Trainer Ritchey is no fan of the Beyer numbers. Proof is an interesting story

he told me the other day.

It seems that the Beyer boys originally gave Afleet Alex a 77 for his first-pop

 victory at Delaware Park. Then six weeks later, after Afleet Alex won

Saratoga's Sanford in track record time, the Beyer for Afleet Alex's first race

mysteriously became 83.

Here's the kicker. While Ritchey was at Lone Star last October with Afleet Alex

 for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he caught Beyer on the in-house TV. Beyer said as

 follows on TV: "Afleet Alex has no chance. He's got no shot. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.

"Roman Ruler," said Beyer, "is a cinch!"

So Beyer was wrong. Aren't we all most of the time? It's not like football when you

 have a 50 per cent of being right. In racing, you have about a 25 per cent chance

 of being right.

But it's never a good thing to say a horse can't lose or a horse can't win. The game

 doesn't work that way.

Even the Mad Bomber has his doubts. He called me last Friday asking my opinion

 about Afleet Alex in the Mountain Valley. He was considering taking a $100,000

show plunge.

It's easy to tell somebody what to do when it isn't your money, but I said Afleet Alex

 is no sure thing to be 1-2-3. In fact, I almost picked against him. How many times

 do you see a class horse get beat first time out in an obvious prep-race situation?

It happens all the time.

Back to the Beyers. Knowing Ritchey's contempt for the Beyers, I was surprised to

 hear him make a point about the 106. I guess it's the old story about using

something when it's there to help make your case.

But the bottom line is that Afleet Alex was lights-out winning the Mountain Valley,

 and it gives him an obvious edge over Rockport Harbor for the Rebel. A week

 ago, I had no idea which horse would be the favorite. Now it's safe to say that

 Afleet Alex will be the favorite.

And, with his edge in condition, I have to figure that Afleet Alex probably will

win the Rebel. But that won't mean he's better than Rockport Harbor. We'll learn

more in the Arkansas Derby on April 16.

In the meantime, I love to follow the various Derby Top Ten polls. You'll remember

 that last year we had many good laughs ridiculing the polls that left Smarty Jones

 out. It wasn't until Smarty won the Arkansas Derby that some of the experts

found out he existed. And even then they were still putting The Cliff's Edge and

 Wimbledon on top.

I have in front of me 13 polls from media writers across the country, and only

 two -- Bill Finley of the New York Times, and Jennie Rees of the Louisville Courier

 Journal -- have Rockport Harbor on top.

And only two -- the AP and John Asher of Churchill Downs -- have Afleet Alex

 on top.

No less than four of the 13 have Declan's Moon on top. Too bad these folks

don't watch the races. Anyone with half a brain could see that Going Wild should

have beaten Declan's Moon last weekend at Santa Anita. Going Wild lost four

 lengths at the start, was knocked around going to the first turn, was in the worst

 going on the rail, and was beaten only two lengths by Declan's Moon, who had

a perfect trip.

Actually, the highlight of the Santa Anita program was the between races tribute

 to Eddie Delahoussaye. The Santa Anita media folks put together a fabulous

10-minute film of Eddie D highlights on and off the track. It was great theater

for a good guy.

One knock, but not really on Delahoussaye.

Back in 1983, Sunny's Halo won the Rebel at Oaklawn Park with veteran

Larry Snyder on his back. The connections of Sunny's Halo, figuring they needed

 a bigger name, dumped Snyder after the Rebel, and hired Eddie D. With Eddie

 up, Sunny's Halo won the Arkansas Derby, and then gave Eddie D. his second

straight Kentucky Derby.

Snyder, who retired in the '90s with more than 6,000 career victories, got shafted

with Sunny's Halo, then, and he continues to get shafted by not being welcomed

into the Hall of Fame.

How can you have a baseball hall of fame without Pete Rose or an NBA all-star

 game with Jason Kidd? And how can you have a racing hall of fame without

Larry Snyder?

It makes no sense.

In the meantime, the racing down here in south-central Arkansas just keeps

getting better and better. Todd Pletcher will try to sweep the weekend's six-figure

 stakes with Purge and Colony Band. Island Sand, who may turn out to be the

 best mare in the land, will face Colony Band on Saturday. And a week from

 Saturday is the summit meeting of Afleet Alex, Rockport Harbor and

Greater Good in the Rebel.

Again, there will be no national TV (except TVG). You need to find your favorite

 simo facility to catch the Rebel. And then you can go back to worrying about

your NC double A brackets. Dontcha love the 30-point dogs the first two days.



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