07/27/2005 11:00PM

Afleet Alex injures leg

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Afleet Alex, the leading 3-year-old in the nation following his dramatic wins in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, has sustained a hairline condylar fracture to his left front cannon bone and will miss both the Haskell Invitational and the Travers.

The injury is not considered career-ending, and Afleet Alex's connections said they are hopeful he will make his comeback in the fall, with the year-end target remaining the Breeders' Cup.

"I think from this vantage point that's still our goal," said Chuck Zacney, managing partner of the Cash Is King syndicate that owns Afleet Alex.

"I look forward to Alex's return to the races," said Tim Ritchey, who trains Afleet Alex. "The book isn't over. There are still some more chapters to be written to the story."

Ritchey said he first discovered Afleet Alex's injury Tuesday, when Afleet Alex was cooling out following training at Belmont Park. He underwent a 35-minute surgery at New Jersey Equine Clinic in Clarksburg, N.J., on Wednesday, when a screw was placed across the fracture, which is located at the bottom of the cannon bone. The screw is intended to push the fracture line back together and keep it from separating further.

"Right now, the prognosis is as good as you can get with a horse," said J.J. Graci, a former trainer and spokesman for Cash Is King.

Zacney said Afleet Alex returned to his Belmont Park base in the early afternoon hours Thursday, and following stall rest, he should begin walking the shed row in 10 to 12 days. Ritchey will confer with Dr. Patty Hogan of the New Jersey Equine Clinic and Dr. Larry Bramlage of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., to determine a rehabilitation schedule for Afleet Alex, who in time will move to Saratoga.

Hogan, who performed the surgery on Afleet Alex, also oversaw the care of Smarty Jones, last year's 3-year-old champion, when he was injured in the starting gate as a 2-year-old.

"I believe we can formulate a plan that will have Alex back racing at his previous level," said Ritchey.

Under the best-case scenario, Afleet Alex could resume training in about a month, said Graci.

"The crack was so, so small that they had a very, very hard time with all the sophisticated X-ray equipment to even find it," said Graci. "And if Tim didn't know the horse so well, they would have never been able to pick it up.

"Tim just thought he saw something that wasn't right, and he immediately addressed it, and through his ability to pick that up as a horse trainer it made what could have been a catastrophic injury just a little bump in the road," Graci said. "And Alex is used to bumps in the road. He's had bumps in the road since he's been born."

After foaling Afleet Alex, his mother could not produce milk for him, so he had to be bottle-fed until a nurse mare could be located, some 12 days after his birth. During Afleet Alex's racing career, he has had troubled trips in Grade 1 races like the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby, a lung infection in the Grade 3 Rebel Stakes, and a frightening tangle at the top of the stretch in the Preakness.

Despite the obstacles, Afleet Alex captured the Preakness and Belmont and has won 8 of 12 starts and $2.7 million. His defection from the Haskell changes the complexion of that race dramatically. Afleet Alex would have been a big favorite in the $1 million showcase, to be run at Monmouth on Aug. 7.

"It will have people who were on the fence rethinking their plans," said Mike Dempsey, racing secretary at Monmouth. "Bruce Headley is rethinking the Pacific Classic. His horse [Surf Cat] is not out of the picture. Trainers with top horses, like [Nick] Zito, may or may not rethink their plans."

Trainer Todd Pletcher on Thursday said he may change course with Magna Graduate, whom he has been pointing for the West Virginia Derby.

Among those considered firm for the Haskell as of Thursday morning were Roman Ruler, Park Avenue Ball, and Chekhov.

It appears it won't be long, however, until the division will again have to deal with Afleet Alex.

"What I'm hearing from Dr. Hogan, she says the prognosis looks very good, so I'm feeling positive," said Zacney.

- additional reporting by Mike Farrell and David Grening