03/08/2005 12:00AM

106 Beyer takes little out of Afleet Alex

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Afleet Alex returned to the track on Tuesday and delighted trainer Tim Ritchey with how "fresh" he looked after putting up the year's highest Beyer Speed Figure by a 3-year-old in last Saturday's at Oaklawn Park.

Afleet Alex, who is a top Kentucky Derby candidate, was making his first start since the Breeders' Cup in October in the six-furlong race, and earned a Beyer Figure of 106.

"That's huge off a layoff," said Rick Lee, who works for Beyer Associates and is a 15-year handicapper at Oaklawn. "To be able to produce a 106 at a distance that's not his best distance, and to run a full second faster than such a quality horse as Pro Prado [earlier on the card], puts the race in its proper context."

"That's definitely strong," Ritchey said of the Beyer Figure. "You know, he's a superior athlete, and superior athletes can do things like that, like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, just the unbelievable things that they can do. It's the same thing. He's just a superior athlete for a horse, so he does things easily.

"The only thing you have to take into consideration is how he came out of the race, and he came out of it great. So for him to run a 106 and to be as fresh as he is after the race and the next day, that tells me there's still room to go forward."

Afleet Alex is now being pointed for the Grade 3, $250,000 Rebel on March 19. He may or may not have a work for 1 1/16-mile Rebel, which serves as a prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16. If he does, the drill is tentatively set for Sunday or Monday.

"It would be just an easy half, just to let him stretch his legs a little," said Ritchey. "That's all he'll need, if we do that."

Afleet Alex is named for three different children by the name of Alex, and one of them, Alex Zacney, celebrated a birthday the day of the Mountain Valley. Alex's father, Chuck Zacney, is managing partner of the Cash Is King stable that races Afleet Alex. Afleet Alex was the first horse for the stable, which was founded last April, and he was purchased for $75,000 on the recommendation of Ritchey.

Rodeo's Castle happy - and fast

Happy horses win races, and trainer Beverly Fowler is doing a great job of keeping Rodeo's Castle content. He has won allowance races in his last two starts, and could get a shot at stakes company later this month in the $50,000 Hot Springs Stakes at six furlongs March 26.

But whether he goes in that race is strictly up to Rodeo's Castle.

"We'll just kind of let him tell us what he wants to do," said Fowler. "Like right now, he's a horse that's spoiled rotten. I mean, I've found that what I call the happy horse is a running horse. We have to feed him lots of apples, peppermints and carrots.

"When I first got him, he was kind of an angry horse and hard to get in the stall with and work on. I found through spoiling him we've gotten him to do more, and it seems to work."

Rodeo's Castle has earned back-to-back Beyer Figures of 98 for his allowance victories at Oaklawn. He races for Byron House 3d and is part of an eight-horse stable Fowler has at Oaklawn. Following the meet, she will be based at Louisiana Downs.

Catboat in strong Thursday feature

Some of the stakes fillies and mares who will not start in Saturday's Grade 3, $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup have turned up in Thursday's ninth race, a 1 1/16-mile event that carries an optional claiming price of $75,000.

Catboat could rule as a slight favorite in the 10-horse field following her third-place finish last out in the $50,000 Pippin Stakes. She rallied from 13 lengths off the pace to finish 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner, Casual Attitude. The runner-up in the race was Island Sand, and both she and Casual Attitude are being pointed for the Azeri.

Catboat won the Grade 3 Arlington Breeders' Cup Oaks last August. She can be closer to the pace than she was in the Pippin, and on Thursday will be making her second start back since November. Stonerside Stable owns Catboat, and trainer Bernie Flint has given the mount to Jeremy Rose.

Others of interest in the race include Freei, trained by Patrick Daly, who was fourth last out in the $75,000 Chou Croute at Fair Grounds.

* Training brothers Donnie and Kelly Von Hemel, and their father, trainer Don Von Hemel, each have a starter in the first race on Thursday. Kelly Von Hemel has the probable favorite in Bridesman. For the last two years, all three Von Hemels have won a race on the same card at Oaklawn, and with nine starters among them on Thursday's program, history could repeat.