09/04/2005 11:00PM

Don't rule Afleet Alex out of BC Classic


NEW YORK - Catching up after a brief freshening . . .

Trainer Tim Ritchey is right on the money when he characterizes Afleet Alex's chances of making the Breeders' Cup as being "very iffy." That is because when you think of Afleet Alex in a Breeders' Cup context, you think of the Breeders' Cup Classic. You don't think of the Breeders' Cup Mile, because even though Afleet Alex may next year prove to be even as effective on turf as on dirt, it would be almost unfair to ask him to make his first start ever on grass in the Mile. The Breeders' Cup Sprint is not a suitable spot, either, not for a dual classic winner like this. It looks like it will have to be the Classic or no Breeders' Cup race for Afleet Alex, and with the great care and touch Ritchey has demonstrated in his handling of Afleet Alex, it would be a shock if he ran his colt in the Classic off a four-month layoff and after a surgical procedure, no matter how minor that surgical procedure may have been.

But all hope is not lost. If Afleet Alex can make a race such as the Perryville at Keeneland on Oct. 14, a seven-furlong stakes for 3-year-olds, that could be enough to get him Breeders' Cup Classic-fit. Or, there may be an industrious racing secretary at Belmont Park, or The Meadowlands, or Philadelphia Park, or Delaware Park who might be able to put together an overnight race as a prep for Afleet Alex even closer to Breeders' Cup Day.

Success in the Breeders' Cup Classic in a scenario like this would not be unprecedented. Proud Truth, winner of the second Classic in 1985, lost much of his 3-year-old campaign that year to injury. But he was able to get a sprint race under his belt four weeks before that Breeders' Cup, and he then won the Discovery Handicap eight days before he got up over Gate Dancer in the 1985 Classic.

And if Afleet Alex can't make the Classic, he might still be seen at Belmont on Breeders' Cup Day, when one of the undercard features is the Discovery for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

Lost in the Fog isn't the Horse of the Year

I feel like I'm the only person in the world who is still reserved in his judgment of Lost in the Fog. Let's get this straight: I do not hate this horse. It is impossible to hate a horse who has won all nine of his races during a 10-month period at seven different racetracks on both coasts. In fact, I wrote last winter that Lost in the Fog could well prove to be a top-class sprinter-miler. But I admit I am amazed there are so many people who consider this colt to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and are so eager to throw rose petals in his path, because despite his flashy record, he has not proven it yet. Lost in the Fog beat yet another gateful of patsies in the King's Bishop. It isn't Lost in the Fog's fault that there isn't another creditable 3-year-old sprinter out there to challenge him, but the fact that there isn't should not be taken as proof of his greatness.

And now, there seems to be some sort of movement developing championing Lost in the Fog for Horse of the Year. Even if Lost in the Fog wins the Breeders' Cup Sprint (if he does, it will be the first and only time he has beaten older horses), he still will have not won a race beyond seven furlongs. To give Horse of the Year to a horse like that would set the honor back 100 years. Forget about Horse of the Year. How could Lost in the Fog, even if he wins the Sprint, be champion 3-year-old over a colt like Afleet Alex, who was dominant winning two-thirds of the Triple Crown?

Speaking of Lost in the Fog, his owner, Harry Aleo, deserves a world of credit for not beating ESPN's Quint Kessenich to a bloody pulp prior to the King's Bishop. In an interview that shocked racing people from one end of the country to the other, and needlessly devalued the otherwise fine coverage ESPN provides racing, Kessenich, asked Aleo to compare owning Lost in the Fog to the Battle of the Bulge, in which Aleo fought. For Kessenich's information, the Battle of the Bulge was the worst battle in terms of American losses in WWII. There were between 70,000 and 80,000 American casualties, with as many as 19,000 Americans killed. This question was obscene, much more so than Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction."

* You have to give proponents of steeplechase racing this: they are a vocal group. But as vocal as they may be, it is clear there aren't many of them. On Friday, with the best steeplechase horses in the country competing in beautiful weather in the first race, the New York Turf Writers Handicap, including last year's champ Hirapour (who won), a total of $494,607 was bet in the win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta pools. Last Wednesday, a gloomy day with a sloppy track, the opener was a nondescript maiden special weight race, and in the same pools, $720,743 was wagered, or 31 percent more. So before anyone advocates maintaining, or even expanding, the steeplechase menu next year at Saratoga, look at the numbers. There is a reason why bettors avoid steeplechase races in droves.

* I love Saratoga, both the track and the town. Belmont is very special to me, and I could be very happy going to Arlington or Santa Anita every day. But when it comes to an area around a track, there is simply no better locale than San Diego-Del Mar. The weather, the scenery, and the unfailingly pleasant attitude of the local folk simply cannot be beat.