02/16/2005 12:00AM

Quick out of the box

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Afleet Alex, Jeremy Rose up, goes four furlongs in 47 seconds in his first recorded work of 2005.

With the year well into its seventh week, and the Kentucky Derby drawing ever closer, it had become a mite disconcerting that Afleet Alex, one of the nation's elite 3-year-olds, had yet to have a recorded workout, what with his 2005 debut only 4 1/2 weeks away. But last year's runner-up for champion 2-year-old finally got back to serious business Wednesday morning at Oaklawn Park, with a four-furlong drill in 47 seconds.

The time was the second fastest of 40 at the distance. Afleet Alex was caught by trainer Tim Ritchey galloping out five furlongs in 59.60 seconds, which was faster than the day's best work at that distance.

"Not too many horses, after they've worked two or three times, are going to gallop out in 59 and 3," Ritchey said.

That Afleet Alex worked so fast and so far in his first drill is indicative of a colt who had plenty of bottom from weeks of galloping at Oaklawn. But the work came just 31 days before his scheduled start in the Grade 3, $250,000 Rebel Stakes on March 19, so he will have had only a handful of workouts going into that race, which will be the first of two before the May 7 Kentucky Derby. Afleet Alex has not raced since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"From here, I can get another at least three works into him, and the way he worked today and how he handled everything, it shouldn't be a problem," Ritchey said. "He wasn't even blowing. He's just a natural athlete.

"He's jogged a lot and galloped a lot of long slow miles. He's got a good bottom underneath him. I'm a believer in training them with more distance. He's had a lot of two-minute miles, that kind of thing, where you're getting the same kind of fitness levels, but you're not stressing the joints in their legs quite as much. Then when you need to put speed work into him, obviously we put it in him. It's just the way I've done things for 30 years, and this horse, I think, responds to it, because he's run his race and he's been there every time."

Afleet Alex worked in company with stablemate Dancetilludrop. He was ridden by jockey Jeremy Rose, who is based at Oaklawn. Rose rode Afleet Alex in all six of his starts last year, though John Velazquez is scheduled to replace Rose in the Rebel.

"I told Jeremy to sit three or four lengths behind and just sit there, wait, wait, wait, and at the head of the lane just move your hands a little bit and ask him, which is what he did, and he went right on by," Ritchey said. "What I've always done with him is work him in company and make him sit behind a horse and relax, so that in any race, if we need to have tactical speed we can because he has speed. But if he needs to relax and sit and make his run, which he'll need to do in these races, he's learned that until you ask him to go, he'll just gallop along as nice as can be, and whenever the rider asks him he'll respond."

The Rebel is the second of three important stakes this spring at Oaklawn. The first is Saturday's $100,000 Southwest Stakes, which is scheduled to be topped by Kentucky Jockey Club winner Greater Good.

"Everything's on target," said Bob Holthus, who trains Greater Good. "He hasn't missed a beat."

Both Afleet Alex and Rockport Harbor are awaiting the Rebel, which is the final prep for the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16. Rockport Harbor is scheduled to work one mile Sunday. "He'll be ready for the Rebel," said his trainer, John Servis.

In other Derby developments:

* Trainer Nick Zito, who recently took over as the trainer of High Fly, said he is considering moving High Fly back to a one-turn mile for his next start. He is looking at the Grade 3, $150,000 Gotham Stakes March 19 at Aqueduct, because High Fly ran so well earlier this year in Gulfstream's Aventura, also a one-turn mile. The other option for High Fly is the Grade 2, $300,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on March 5, which is at 1 1/8 miles around two turns.

* The 1 1/16 miles of the Grade 2, $600,000 Louisiana Derby on March 12 is more suitable than the 1 1/8 miles of the Fountain of Youth for Proud Accolade, so trainer Todd Pletcher has decided to point Proud Accolade to the Louisiana Derby. Pletcher said he will enter Bandini in the Fountain of Youth, but if Bandini draws a wide post, he could come out and join his stablemate at the Fair Grounds.

- additional reporting by Mary Rampellini

WHO'S HOT: There are five newcomers to this week's Derby Watch top 25, including Fusaichi Rock Star, Scipion, and Sort It Out, who won stakes races last weekend. Fusaichi Rock Star, the winner of the San Vicente, is 40-1 on the future line of Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. Sort It Out, the Whirlaway winner, is also 40-1, as is Whirlaway runner-up Naughty New Yorker. Scipion, the Risen Star winner, comes in at 30-1. But the biggest splash was made by San Vicente runner-up Don't Get Mad, whose impressive late rally caused Watchmaker to peg him at 25-1.

WHO'S NOT: Five horses were dropped from last week - Buzzards Bay, Harlington, Rush Bay, Straight Line, and Texcess - either because of poor performances last weekend or inactivity. Galloping Grocer, who was fourth in the Whirlaway, saw his price double on Watchmaker's line, to 30-1 from last week's 15-1.

ON THE BUBBLE: Scrappy T caught the eye with a troubled third-place finish in the Whirlaway. There is not a lot of activity over the next two weekends, so there should be minimal adjustments before the next Super Saturday, March 5, when races include the Santa Catalina at Santa Anita and the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.