10/24/2004 11:00PM

Don't give up on Afleet Alex

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Afleet Alex's five-furlong work Monday was the fastest at the distance by three seconds.

Though Afleet Alex suffered his first career defeat in the Champagne, his trainer, Tim Ritchey, believes few people have lost faith in the multiple-stakes-winning colt.

"He's got a bigger fan club than he had before the Champagne," said Ritchey, who believes Afleet Alex encountered significant trouble when beaten a half-length by Proud Accolade in the Champagne. "He's a very popular horse right now. A lot of people like seeing that grit and determination."

Afleet Alex's fan club may have swelled after the Hopeful winner blitzed five furlongs in 58.44 seconds Monday morning at Lone Star Park. Regular exercise rider Samuel Cabrera was up for the move, the fastest at the distance by three seconds.

Daily Racing Form clocker Mike Welsch caught Afleet Alex's opening quarter in 23.76 seconds, his half-mile in 46.65, and timed him galloping out six furlongs in 1:11.84.

"He looked like he was just galloping; he did it very, very easily," Ritchey said. "The exercise rider just sat on him. He obviously liked the surface because he skipped over it. . . . So far, he's handled pretty much any surface, so I didn't really worry about it, but it's always a confidence-builder to go and handle the track as well as he did it."

Afleet Alex will be one of eight horses entered Wednesday when post positions are drawn for the $1.5 million Juvenile. Scandinavia, whose status had been in question, was reportedly shipped to Texas from Ireland on Monday.

Afleet Alex, a son of Northern Afleet, won his first three starts, including the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga, most impressively. He overcame a sloppy track and a questionable ride to win the Grade 1 Hopeful. In the Champagne, Afleet Alex got stuck inside and finished gamely when clear in the last three-sixteenths.

If nothing else, the Champagne erased any concerns about the colt's ability to get 1 1/16 miles.

"I never thought it would be a problem, because he trained like a distance horse," Ritchey said. "I think he's got distance ability with sprinter speed, which can be dangerous."

Roman Ruler and Proud Accolade, likely the top two choices for the Juvenile, put in solid workouts Sunday.

Just prior to the first race at Santa Anita, Roman Ruler worked five furlongs in 58 seconds in company with Pizza George. Roman Ruler started a few lengths behind, raced in the three path, and finished two in front.

At Belmont on Sunday, Proud Accolade worked five furlongs in 1:00.88 on the training track under John Velazquez, the colt's regular rider. Proud Accolade, unbeaten in three starts, worked inside of stablemate Newfoundland, the Jockey Club Gold Cup runner-up, who is being pointed to the Classic.

"I thought it was a good work," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He's a horse that's still learning some things. It seems like he's gotten much more professional about being on the inside. Early on, he wasn't crazy about that much. Now, he's gotten a lot more comfortable in that situation."

Both Roman Ruler and Proud Accolade are scheduled to arrive at Lone Star on Wednesday.