07/18/2013 11:05AM

DRF Breeding Hot Sire: Afleet Alex


Courtesy of GaineswayAfleet Alex

Afleet Alex, the champion 3-year-old male of 2005, has settled into a steady stallion career at Gainesway in Lexington, Ky., though he has yet to sire a true breakout horse.

Dancing Afleet’s rapid improvement at Delaware Park in the past six weeks gave him another graded stakes winner, and she could develop into a top horse for Afleet Alex, although she has yet to be tested against the nation’s top 3-year-old fillies.

The Pennsylvania-bred Dancing Afleet took the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks on July 13 for the third consecutive win in her budding, five-start career. Bought by trainer Tim Ritchey for $28,000 at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern fall yearling sale, the filly made her first two starts at Oaklawn and Parx Racing, finishing fourth and third, before winning her last three at Delaware Park. Ritchey co-owns Dancing Afleet with Beverly Frazier.

Ritchey trained Afleet Alex to one of the best 3-year-old seasons of the previous decade, a campaign that came on the heels of Triple Crown runs from regional heroes Funny Cide in 2003 and Smarty Jones in 2004, and he would add his own mark on the Triple Crown races. Bred in Florida by John Martin Silvertand, Afleet Alex was by multiple Grade 2 winner Northern Afleet, at the time an unproven sire. Afleet Alex was a full brother to one of Northern Afleet’s few stakes-winning horses to that point, Unforgettable Max, both being out of the Hawkster mare Maggy Hawk.

Afleet Alex proved to be a good one from the start. As a 2-year-old in 2004, he won the Grade 2 Sanford and Grade 1 Hopeful and finished second in both the Grade 1 Champagne and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for Cash Is King stable, a partnership managed by Philadelphia businessman Chuck Zacney. Zacney had turned down a lucrative offer from Stonestreet Stables’ Jess Jackson to sell Afleet Alex after the Sanford, and the horse would validate that decision in 2005, becoming the best of his generation by a substantial margin.

After an easy win in the six-furlong Mountain Valley at Oaklawn to start his 3-year-old season, Afleet Alex stopped badly in the Grade 3 Southwest, backing up to finish last in the six-horse field. Diagnosed after the race with a lung infection, Afleet Alex recovered in time for the Arkansas Derby, where all doubts about his ability were put to rest when he won by eight lengths.

That win sent the horse to Churchill Downs as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby, and after a blistering pace cooked the front-runners, a rallying Afleet Alex had every chance in the stretch at odds of 9-2. The final sixteenth of the 2005 Derby was a free-for-all, as a trio of closers staggered to the finish, and Afleet Alex could only get up for third behind longshots Giacomo and Closing Argument.

The next two legs of the Triple Crown would define Afleet Alex’s career and set him up for a strong initial reception as a stallion after he was retired later that summer. His amazing, athletic performance in the Preakness – where he nearly dropped to his knees at the top of the stretch after being bumped by Scrappy T and then recovered to win going away – was replayed countless times during the interregnum before the Belmont, giving Afleet Alex national recognition for his athleticism and ability.

In the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, Afleet Alex completely dominated his opposition, winning by seven lengths. It would be his last start, however, as a hairline fracture was discovered shortly afterward, followed by a diagnosis of bone degeneration in his left foreleg. The horse was retired in December and sent to Graham Beck’s Gainesway for the 2006 breeding season. At that time, Stonestreet’s Jackson bought a major interest in Afleet Alex to join Cash Is King and Gainesway as owners.

Standing for an initial fee of $40,000, Afleet Alex had 138 registered foals in his first crop. Grade 1 success came quickly when Dublin, a $525,000 Keeneland yearling in 2008, won two starts the following summer at Saratoga, including the Hopeful. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt placed in the Southwest, Rebel, and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn as a 3-year-old and was competitive in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (finishing seventh and fifth), but he did not win again in his career. Afleet Alex’s only other stakes winner that year came in Panama.

A less-than-spectacular 2009 was followed by a better 2010 for Afleet Alex’s first crop, highlighted by Afleet Express’s nose win in the Travers. That colt had emerged in late spring with sharp wins in an allowance race at Belmont and the Grade 3 Pegasus, along with a rough-trip third in the Jim Dandy. But like his sire, he would not race again after his career-defining win, in this case due to a suspensory ligament injury. Afleet Express stands at Gainesway alongside Afleet Alex, and his first foals are yearlings of 2013.

Another first-crop runner, Afleet Again, won the Grade 3 Withers in 2010 and the following year took the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. Harissa, a stakes-winning filly at 3, won the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie in 2011 at 4. And the first-crop Afleeting Lady would mature into a graded stakes winner in 2012 at age 5 with wins in the Grade 2 Falls City and the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm.

Outside of that group, Afleet Alex’s best U.S. runners have been the second-crop Bizzy Caroline, a dual Grade 3-winning filly on turf, and the third-crop Called to Serve, who won the Grade 3 Discovery in 2012 and was third in this year’s Santa Anita Handicap. While he is lacking a superstar runner, Afleet Alex has settled into the midlevel of the competitive central Kentucky commercial market ($15,000 fee in 2013) and still is popular with breeders, covering 96 mares in 2012. He will get the occasional six-figure yearling or juvenile at public auction.

Afleet Alex is relatively early in a long stud career at Gainesway, now run by Antony Beck following his father’s death in 2010. Afleet Alex has the chance to match the output of his own sire, Taylor Made’s veteran Northern Afleet, who has what some might call a “sneaky good” résumé, with 6 percent stakes winners through 12 crops of racing age. Afleet Alex is Northern Afleet’s best offspring, but Northern Afleet also has sired champions Amazombie and Negligee, as well as multiple Grade 1 winners Evening Jewel and Teaks North.

Dancing Afleet’s pedigree is Mid-Atlantic-based. She is out of the Citidancer mare Mrs. Vanderbilt, who won three times in 18 starts on the Mid-Atlantic circuit and earned $68,501. Mrs. Vanderbilt has produced two other winners, one of which, the Oratory gelding Tujoes, has won two stakes restricted to Pennsylvania-breds and earned $362,586 to date. Mrs. Vanderbilt is a half-sister to Aqueduct stakes winner Sagamoon.

Afleet Alex also is off to a good start at the yearling sales this year, as all three yearlings by him offered at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale sold, for $50,000, $85,000, and $150,000. The last of these, a filly out of the Grade 3-placed Unobstructed View, by Yes It’s True, was bought by Arkansas owners and breeders Alex and JoAnn Lieblong.