10/07/2004 12:00AM

Afleet Alex needs to step it up

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Afleet Alex, ridden by Jeremy Rose, set a stakes record when he won the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga on July 29.

ELMONT, N.Y. - As dominant as he was in the Sanford, and as brave as he was in the Hopeful, Afleet Alex will have to be even better if he is to remain undefeated following Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 at Belmont Park.

In addition to proving he can go a distance of ground, Afleet Alex will face some strong competition in the Champagne, perhaps the best 2-year-old race this year.

Afleet Alex, a perfect 4 for 4, will run 1 1/16 miles for the first time against a field that includes Proud Accolade, unbeaten in two starts; Park Avenue Ball, winner of the Futurity here on Sept. 19; and impressive maiden winners Sun King and Silver Train.

The winner of this race could head to Lone Star Park as the favorite for the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 30, despite the presence of the dominant West Coast runner Roman Ruler.

Afleet Alex, based in Delaware Park with trainer Tim Ritchey, set a stakes record when he ran six furlongs in 1:09.32 and won the Sanford by 5 1/4 lengths on July 29. In the Hopeful, Afleet Alex appeared beaten in upper stretch after ducking out from four cracks of jockey Jeremy Rose's left-handed whip. But Rose got Afleet Alex straightened out in time to get up by a neck over Devils Disciple.

"It wasn't his fault that he ducked out," Rose said. "I hit him a couple too many times left-handed. Normally I wouldn't hit him that hard, but it was a Grade 1 - I laid into him."

Afleet Alex has had seven weeks to get over that effort. He has a string of solid works, including a one-mile move in 1:37.71 at Delaware on Sept. 22.

"I never sat on a horse that worked like that first time working a mile," Rose said.

Asked his thoughts about Afleet Alex getting the 1 1/16 miles of the Champagne, Rose said, "I don't think he'll have a problem."

Proud Accolade, a son of Yes It's True, was more impressive in his maiden win on July 31 than in his entry-level allowance score on Sept. 1. Both races were at 6 1/2 furlongs. While trainer Todd Pletcher doesn't view distance as an obstacle, he said that Proud Accolade still exhibits tendencies of an inexperienced horse.

"I don't think he's going to run the best race he's capable of Saturday," Pletcher said. "I think he's moving forward each time. He's looking around a bit still; he's still learning."

Pletcher knows the position Ritchey is in, having sent out the Champagne favorite in 1999 and 2003. Both More Than Ready and Chapel Royal were dominant early in their 2-year-old seasons, but faltered in the Champagne.

"Sometimes the ones that are the best in June, July, and August aren't always the best ones in October," Pletcher said.

Sun King is a very intriguing prospect. In addition to being trained by four-time Champagne winner Nick Zito, Sun King comes off an impressive maiden win here on Sept. 17. He defeated the highly regarded Patriot Act by a half-length, and those two were almost 11 lengths clear of the rest of the field. Javier Castellano took off Park Avenue Ball to ride Sun King.

Silver Train could be the main speed of the Champagne. He won a maiden race by seven lengths and appears to have gotten better with each of his three starts. Mike Smith comes in from California to ride.

The Champagne field is so strong that Belmont Futurity winner Park Avenue Ball might be the fifth choice in this field. He didn't run very fast in the Futurity, but he did win by three lengths, his third win from four starts. Joe Bravo rides.

All Trumps, a two-length maiden winner here on Sept. 4, is cross-entered in Saturday's Dover Stakes at Delaware Park. Wallstreet Scandal, second to Park Avenue Ball in the Futurity, and One Fein Dad, a maiden, round out the field.

The field

Champagne
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/16 miles; Grade 1

PPHORSEJOCKEYODDS
1Wallstreet ScandalS. Bridgmohan10-1
2Park Avenue BallJ. Bravo10-1
3All TrumpsC. Velasquez15-1
4One Fein DadR. Migliore20-1
5Silver TrainM. Smith10-1
6Afleet AlexJ. Rose2-1
7Sun KingJ. Castellano3-1
8Proud AccoladeJ. Velazquez5-2

* All starters carry 122 pounds
* Odds by Brian Pochman
* Television: Saturday, 4-5 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN2