03/21/2011 3:07PM

Kentucky Derby 2011 Under the Radar: Elite Alex

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Elite Alex was scratched from last weekend's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn in favor of Saturday's Louisiana Derby.

In Robert Burns’s poem, To a Mouse, the author notes “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley [often go awry].”

We shall hope, for Elite Alex’s sake, that trainer Tim Ritchey’s decision to bypass last week’s Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in favor for this Saturday’s Grade 2, $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby does not prove the old saying correct.

Elite Alex was ready to go for a tilt against the speedy The Factor at Oaklawn Park, but Ritchey scratched the colt partly because of a wide starting gate in a bulky field. When post positions were drawn for the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, Elite Alex was mired in post 12 in a cast of 13.

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Outside post or not, Elite Alex looks like an intriguing contender in a fairly competitive running of the Louisiana Derby, the richest race ever run in New Orleans. That, coupled with some promising previous performances, makes him this week’s “Under the Radar” selection.

Foaled in Ontario, Canada, on April 24, 2008, Elite Alex is by Afleet Alex, Ritchey’s star Thoroughbred who won the first four starts of his career at 2, including the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes and the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, both at hallowed Saratoga.

The following year, Afleet Alex won the Arkansas Derby by eight lengths, finished third in the Kentucky Derby, and showed immense courage and agility by overcoming a horrendous stumble in upper stretch to dominate the Preakness Stakes with a 112 Beyer Speed Figure. In the Belmont Stakes, the final start of Afleet Alex’s career, he destroyed his rivals, winning off by seven lengths.

Afleet Alex’s third-crop are 2-year-olds of 2011, but he has already proven to be an attractive stallion, siring Afleet Express, the winner of the Grade 1 Travers Stakes going 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga. Dublin, a member of Afleet Alex’s first crop, took the Grade 1 Hopeful at 2.

Elite Alex’s dam, the unraced mare Catch the Moment, is by Unbridled, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles. The second dam, Fluid Move (by Nureyev), placed in a pair of stakes on turf, including the Wonder Where at 10 furlongs at Woodbine. The third-dam (by Gregorian) was thrice stakes-placed while her mother, Betty’s Secret (by 1973 Triple Crown legend Secretariat) is a half-sister to French 3-year-old champion Caracolero. Betty’s Secret is the dam of Epsom Derby winner Secreto.

At the 2009 Keeneland September yearling auction, Elite Alex sold for $300,000. Sent to Ritchey, the bay colt made his career debut the following July in a five-furlong maiden special weight at Delaware Park.

Sent off the 6-5 betting favorite, Elite Alex broke a half-length slow, but soon rushed up from the far outside under jockey Rosie Napravnik to battle with Volcker, the 8-5 second choice in the wagering. The two hooked up in a spirited duel, but Elite Alex edged away at the end to win by three-parts of a length. He galloped out far ahead of Volcker. Of the six horses that Elite Alex defeated that day, five returned to crack the exacta next-out with two of them graduating. With the debut win, Elite Alex emulated his sire, who scored first-time out of the box at Delaware in June 2004.

Sent to the sidelines for the remainder of his juvenile campaign, Elite Alex resurfaced at Oaklawn in an entry-level optional claimer at one mile on Jan. 15. Despite wearing front bandages for the first time, stretching out three furlongs in his initial try around two turns, and racing for the first time in more than six months, Elite Alex was again made the 6-5 favorite.

The colt stumbled horribly at the start, reportedly grabbing a quarter, and almost unseating jockey Calvin Borel. That left Elite Alex several lengths in arrears of the field going into the first turn. The pair eventuallcaught up with the others heading into the final bend with Elite Alex forced to go five wide turning for home. He was a bit late to make his final lead change and finished a head shy of Alternation, a colt who returned to win his third straight race in a nonwinners-of-three-lifetime allowance at Oaklawn on Feb. 21. Considering the terrible start, moderate pace (49.68 half-mile clocking), wide trip, and injured foot, Elite Alex gave a big effort in his first try of the year.

Ritchey then entered Elite Alex in the Grade  3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 21. After being outsprinted through the first quarter-mile, Elite Alex was taken well off the inside down the backstretch, as Borel placed the colt four horses deep while stalking the leaders. Elite Alex continued to lose ground through the far turn, and he was six wide turning for home. He finished evenly for third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths for the win by Archarcharch. Again, it could be argued that the trip compromised the finish.

Despite the two recent defeats, Borel remains high on Elite Alex. After working the colt one morning at Oaklawn, he told track officials that Elite Alex “reminds me of Street Sense. That’s why I love him so much.” Street Sense, of course, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Kentucky Derby, and Travers for Borel.
Lightly raced with a ton of upside potential, Elite Alex seemingly has the pedigree to succeed at longer distances as his sire and broodmare sire combined for three Classics and their own personal Triple Crown. Elite Alex’s Beyer Speed Figures have improved with each and every start. If he can avoid another extremely wide trip this weekend, he could certainly have a say in the Louisiana Derby. If he doesn’t win it, there is still the possibility of grabbing graded earnings, a major factor in remaining on the Kentucky Derby trail.