05/02/2005 11:00PM

Alex has done plenty already

Afleet Alex completes his final prep for the Derby by breezing four furlongs under Jeremy Rose.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Last year, a trainer making his first start in the Kentucky Derby and a jockey riding in the race for the first time came out of the mid-Atlantic region by way of Oaklawn Park and won the Derby. Might another Philadelphia story be written this year?

The connections of Afleet Alex are certainly hopeful they can emulate the popularity, and success, of last year's Philly Flyer, Smarty Jones. Like Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex is heading into Saturday's Derby at Churchill Downs following a victory in the Arkansas Derby. Tim Ritchey, the trainer of Afleet Alex, finally seems to be taking a cue from John Servis, the trainer of Smarty Jones, and is growing accustomed to demands on his time, rather than fighting it. And Jeremy Rose, the jockey on Afleet Alex, is trying to maintain the quiet equanimity that got Stewart Elliott through the madness of Derby week last year.

Afleet Alex is owned by five men from Philadelphia who call themselves the Cash Is King Stable. Afleet Alex has been a cash cow for them, having earned $1,315,800 in the 11 months since his purchase for $75,000 last year.

Everything that Afleet Alex has accomplished to this point, though, will become a footnote if he can capture the Derby and put that at the top of his resume. And what a re"sume"" it is. Afleet Alex has won 6 of 9 starts, finished second twice, has won major races at ages 2 and 3, and has been among his division's leaders since last summer, when he won the Sanford and Hopeful stakes in successive starts at Saratoga. His only poor race came in the Rebel Stakes, from which he emerged with a lung infection.

Tuesday, Afleet Alex completed his serious preparation for the Derby with a half-mile breeze under Rose in 48.40 seconds on a fast track at Churchill Downs. Compared to what he has done most mornings since he got here, Afleet Alex got off easy on Tuesday.

Afleet Alex has trained twice a day most mornings all winter and spring, beginning at Oaklawn. He has gone as far as five miles jogging and galloping in a single day. Tuesday, he jogged a little more than a mile before his drill. If he gets beat, it won't be because he's not fit.

"I think he'll go two miles," Ritchey said, dismissing any concern Afleet Alex can handle the Derby's 1 1/4 miles. "He trained five miles the other day and was pretty fresh after the second time he came back."

Ritchey said the twice daily training schedule "physically helps and mentally helps" Afleet Alex.

"It's always been my goal to have him at his peak both physically and mentally on the first Saturday in May," Ritchey said.

Ritchey said the training schedule is something he has done before, but never with a horse of this caliber, nor under the glaring scrutiny of the Derby.

"It's just something that evolves from studying your horse," he said.

Of the likely top three choices in the race, Afleet Alex has the most experience. Bellamy Road, the probable favorite, has run just five times, including a mere two starts this year. Bandini also has run just five times. Afleet Alex has raced nine times. Only Wilko, with 14 starts, has more experience.

"I know just running horses in general, when you get to bigger races, when you have a horse that has been battle-tested, you know what he is and what he is capable of," Ritchey said. "Some of the horses that are moving way up have got only two or three races in them. Yes, they might have run very well, but now they are looking at a 20-horse field.

"He's very professional. He's got a lot of seasoning under him," Ritchey said. "He has been battle-tested. He's always shown up, except for the one race when he had a legitimate excuse, the lung infection. When we detected the problem, I was still very confident that we would go on to the Triple Crown races. It's not a major thing. It just affects horses and they don't run their race. He showed in the Arkansas Derby it was obviously curable."

In other Derby developments Tuesday:

* Tyler Baze was confirmed by trainer Ron Ellis as the rider on Don't Get Mad, who won the Derby Trial last Saturday. Gary Stevens rode Don't Get Mad in that race, but he already had committed to ride Noble Causeway, the Florida Derby runner-up, in the Derby. Baze rode Don't Get Mad in three races last winter at Santa Anita, including a second-place finish in the San Vicente Stakes.

* Entries for the Derby were scheduled to close Wednesday morning, and post positions were to be drawn Wednesday evening. A full field of 20 was expected.

* The weather forecast continues to improve. According to the National Weather Service, it is supposed to be dry and warming all week through Saturday, with a high temperature on Derby Day of 81 degrees.

- additional reporting by David Grening