01/27/2006 1:00AM

Alex's acrobatics a vivid memory

After nearly falling in the stretch when he made hard contact with Scrappy T, Afleet Alex recovered to win the Preakness by 4 3/4 lengths.

The cold, hard facts will show that Afleet Alex was the champion 3-year-old male of 2005, but when racing historians look back at the most indelible image of 2005, it undoubtedly will be his remarkable performance in the Preakness Stakes.

As the field turned into the stretch, Afleet Alex was in high gear, closing swiftly on the leader, Scrappy T, and jockey Ramon Dominguez. Suddenly, Scrappy T veered into the path of Afleet Alex, causing Afleet Alex to clip heels and stumble badly, pitching jockey Jeremy Rose onto the colt's neck.

It was a wonder stayed on his feet. It was a wonder Rose remained in the saddle. But Afleet Alex shook off that body block, gathered himself in an instant, and set after Scrappy T with some innate determination. From near disaster to emphatic victory, Afleet Alex won the Preakness by 4 3/4 lengths, and became an instant celebrity.

The Preakness encapsulated Afleet Alex's year, one of great highs and crushing lows. He made his first start of the year in the Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and cruised to an easy victory, from which he emerged as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

But two weeks later, Afleet Alex stopped badly in the Rebel Stakes and finished last of six, the first time he had ever finished worse than second. Trainer Tim Ritchey discovered a lung infection after the race, and for the next four weeks insisted all would be right next time.

Afleet Alex returned with an overpowering effort in the Arkansas Derby, winning by eight lengths over Flower Alley. That proved to be a key race, for Flower Alley later in the year captured the Travers Stakes and was second to Horse of the Year Saint Liam in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Then it was on to the Kentucky Derby, in which Giacomo scored an upset victory, with Afleet Alex a close third.

Afleet Alex got even with Giacomo in the Preakness. They would meet again in the Belmont Stakes, a match that provided a compelling story line in a year in which no horse was aiming for a Triple Crown. As in the Preakness, Afleet Alex dominated. Rose turned him loose heading into the stretch, and Afleet Alex bounded clear to win by seven lengths.

Ritchey had trained Afleet Alex twice a day most of the spring, and the colt seemed to thrive under that schedule. While most of his rivals wilted as the Triple Crown wore on, Afleet Alex seemed to flourish.

Afleet Alex, a son of Northern Afleet out of the Hawkster mare Maggy Hawk, was bred by John Martin Silvertand. Ritchey purchased Afleet Alex as a 2-year-old for $75,000 on behalf of the Cash is King Stable, a group of partners from the Philadelphia area. Chuck Zacney headed the group, and his partners were Bob Brittingham, Joe Judge, Joe Lerro, and Jen Reeves. They magnanimously used Afleet Alex's celebrity to advance the cause of pediatric cancer research by aligning themselves with Alex's Lemonade Stand, which was founded by Alexandra Scott, who died at age 8 in 2004. For those efforts, Cash is King was presented with a Special Eclipse Award.

Afleet Alex was initially scheduled to race in 2006, but injuries discovered in December necessitated his retirement to stud.