06/10/2005 11:00PM

Afleet Alex blows 'em away

Preakness winner Afleet Alex and jockey Jeremy Rose are all alone in deep stretch of Saturday's 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. - This time, Afleet Alex was able to showcase his dazzling turn of foot, and no one could trip him up.

Unlike in the Preakness Stakes, when Afleet Alex and jockey Jeremy Rose narrowly avoided a catastrophe, his journey in the 137th on Saturday at Belmont Park was smooth, trouble-free, emphatically overpowering, and sublimely satisfying.

Afleet Alex, with jockey Jeremy Rose patiently waiting until a little more than a quarter-mile remained in the 1 1/2-mile race, was finally cut loose, and none of his 10 rivals stood a chance. He rocketed past them with the same explosiveness he showed in the Arkansas Derby, and cruised to a seven-length victory before an adoring crowd of 62,274 that gave him a big cheer in the post parade and a bigger one when he came back to the winner's circle.

Andromeda's Hero rallied for second, 6 3/4 lengths in front of the maiden Nolan's Cat, who finished third. Indy Storm was fourth and was followed, in order, by A.P. Arrow, Chekhov, Giacomo, Southern Africa, Watchmon, Reverberate, and Pinpoint.

Afleet Alex ($4.30) covered 1 1/2 miles on the fast main track in 2:28.75. He earned $600,000 from the gross purse of $1 million for his owners, the Cash Is King Stable, a group of five people from Philadelphia whose managing partner is Chuck Zacney. Afleet Alex has now won eight times in 12 starts, and is clearly the nation's leading 3-year-old.

Tim Ritchey, the trainer of Afleet Alex, stressed throughout the year that his unorthodox, extensive training regimen with Afleet Alex was designed to get Afleet Alex through the Triple Crown, most notably the demanding Belmont Stakes. Afleet Alex responded by getting stronger as the Triple Crown progressed. He was third in the Derby before his victories in the Preakness and Belmont.

Rose, who showed savvy patience in the Belmont, after the race told NBC's Donna Brothers that he believed Afleet Alex "should have won the Triple Crown."

"I messed up," Rose said. "I know he's the best 3-year-old, and he didn't win the Derby. You can't blame Tim, and you can't blame Alex. So, if you have to blame someone, blame me."

Giacomo, the Derby winner, loomed menacingly to make the lead while four paths wide on the turn, but then faded. His jockey, Mike Smith, said he flipped his palate and had trouble breathing.

Reverberate had a rough trip. He broke in a tangle, then rushed up and faded.

It was a warm, humid afternoon at Belmont Park, and the main track tended to favor speed most of the day. A little more than an hour before the Belmont Stakes, the main track was given a light seal, in anticipation of a late-afternoon rain shower. But no rain fell before the track was harrowed anew before the post parade for the Belmont.

This Belmont lacked the pre-race drama of the Belmont the previous three years, when the Triple Crown was on the line with War Emblem, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones. Instead, it featured a showdown between Giacomo, who won the Derby on May 7, and Afleet Alex, who won the Preakness on May 21.

Afleet Alex finished third in the Derby, then scored a remarkable victory in the Preakness after nearly falling when interfered with by Scrappy T at the top of the stretch.

The match-up between the winners of the Derby and Preakness marked the first such occurrence since 2001, when Monarchos, the Derby winner, faced Point Given, the Preakness winner. Point Given romped to an overpowering victory in that year's Belmont.

Prior to Point Given, the last horse to win the Preakness and Belmont after losing the Derby was Tabasco Cat in 1994. The others who have won the last two legs of the Triple Crown after losing the Derby are Hansel (1991), Risen Star (1988), Little Current (1974), Damascus (1967), Nashua (1955), Native Dancer (1953), Capot (1949), and Bimelech (1940).

Afleet Alex and Giacomo were the only horses from this year's Triple Crown who ran in all three races. Andromeda's Hero, who was eighth in the Derby, was the only other horse in this year's Belmont who had made a previous start in a Triple Crown race.