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Jun 17, 2005

Afleet Alex triumphs in 137th Belmont Stakes


Elmont, NY (Sports Network) - Overwhelming favorite Afleet Alex captured the

 final two legs of the Triple Crown, as he won the 137th running of the Belmont

Stakes on Saturday.

Afleet Alex, who went off at odds of even money, posted a seven-length win over

 second-place finisher Andromeda's Hero. Nolan's Cat ended third, 13 3/4 lengths

 behind the winner.

The time for the 1 1/2 mile "Test of Champions" was 2:28.75 on a fast track at

 Belmont Park.

Afleet Alex, who also won the Preakness Stakes on May 21 despite stumbling down

 the stretch, picked up his eighth win in 12 lifetime starts. The powerful colt held

the lead in the final furlongs of the Kentucky Derby before being passed and

eventually finishing third.

Jockey Jeremy Rose and trainer Tim Ritchey were both competing in their first

 Belmont Stakes.

Afleet Alex, owned by Cash is King Stable, became the 29th horse all-time to win

 both the Preakness and Belmont and the first since Point Given accomplished the

feat in 2001.

The heavy favorite returned $4,30, $3.60 and $3. Andromeda's Hero paid $8.20

and $5.80, while longshot Nolan's Cat returned $7.20 to show.

Afleet Alex, the first favorite to win the Belmont in four years, ran his career earnings

 to $3.165 million.

"He should be a Triple Crown winner, but I messed up (in the Derby)," Rose said.

The race was billed as a rematch between Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and

Afleet Alex, but it did not turn out as expected after Giacomo faded down the

 stretch. Giacomo, the 50-1 longshot winner in the "Run for the Roses", briefly snuck

 his head in front around the final turn, but fell back in the pack and finished seventh,

 17 3/4 lengths behind Afleet Alex.

Giacomo might have suffered from an injury, though, as the horse apparently had

some breathing problems during the race which could have caused his poor showing.

"He flipped his palate real bad, you can hear it," said Giacomo jockey Mike Smith.

"He made a loud, roaring noise."

This marked the first time in four years and just the third time in the last nine that

 there was not a horse attempting to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

Thoroughbred racing has not had a Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.

Andromeda's Hero, trained by Nick Zito, ran a disappointing eighth in the

Kentucky Derby, but rebounded with a strong performance in the final leg of the

Triple Crown.

Zito came into the season with a solid group of three-year-olds and the newly-elected

 Hall of Fame trainer ran a total of 11 horses, including three in this race, in the

Triple Crown. However, Zito had a tough five weeks, as this was the lone horse of

his that hit the board in the three classics.

Other horses trained by Zito in the Belmont included Indy Storm (4th) and

Pinpoint (11th).

The native New Yorker Zito, who saddled 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, has

now run second six times in the final race of the Triple Crown.

Nolan's Cat, who was the biggest longshot in the field and still has yet to post his

maiden victory, was in dead last for a majority of the race, but rallied late to pass

many tired horses to get up for a satisfying third.

Pinpoint broke quickly out of the gate and led the 11-horse field around the first

three quarters. Pinpoint moved around the first quarter in 24 2/5, while getting past

 the half-mile in 48 3/5 and the three-quarter pole in 1:12 4/5.

Giacomo surprisingly pressed the pace early, as the colt was in fifth, while Rose

stayed out of harm's way and saved ground. Afleet Alex was in a distant ninth as the

field headed around the final turn, but the colt then began to make his powerful move.

The Kentucky Derby winner briefly took the lead as the group turned for home, but

it was short-lived as Afleet Alex made a surging move to quickly storm in front by the

 quarter pole.

"All I kept saying was, 'Be patient, be patient, be patient. Wait, wait, wait,'" Ritchey said.

 "He just exploded. That was the plan. With these big, wide turns, you have to save all

the ground you can. Jeremy Rose has now ridden three Triple Crown races like a Hall

 of Famer."

Afleet Alex blew by a tired Giacomo and pulled away from the rest of the pack to power

 to the easy victory. He ran the final quarter-mile in 24 2/5.

"I knew I had the best horse and I knew I had the fastest quarter-mile when I

needed it," Rose said. "I know I have the best three-year-old horse in the country."

Indy Storm rounded out the superfecta and was followed by A.P. Arrow, Chekhov,

Giacomo, Southern Africa, Watchmon, Reverberate and Pinpoint, who finished 34 3/4

lengths behind despite leading for a majority of the race.

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