02/02/2011 4:40PM

Ritchey's patience with Elite Alex seems to be paying off

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Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Elite Alex will make his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Southwest on Feb. 21.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – The time off that trainer Tim Ritchey gave Elite Alex to grow into his large frame appears to be working in the horse’s favor this winter at Oaklawn Park. Elite Alex turned in a notable breeze over the weekend and remains on pace to make his stakes debut in the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest on Feb. 21.

He will be one of the top choices. Elite Alex has raced just twice, but has shown considerable talent in both of his starts. His most recent came in a first-level allowance at Oaklawn on Jan. 15. Elite Alex stumbled badly at the break, spotted the field a number of lengths, circled his rivals, and just missed by a head. It was both his two-turn debut and his first race since July 3, when he won a maiden special weight sprint at Delaware Park. Following the win, the decision was made to give the horse time.

“He’s such a big colt,” Ritchey said. “I wanted to run him six furlongs the first time out and the race didn’t go and I ran him five-eighths. But I noticed after that he was about two inches higher in his hindquarters than he was in his withers. He was just out of balance, so I just said, ‘You know what, if we keep going with this horse he’s kind of going downhill.'

“I just stopped with him. We gave him some time, and let him grow and his withers came back up, and he got in back in balance and then we started him back. He could have gone on and run, but you know what I just liked him so much I didn’t want to put too much pressure on his front legs with him out of balance like that. So, I just kind of let him grow into himself, and hopefully, it will pay off.”

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Elite Alex was the favorite in the Oaklawn allowance, off the strength of some of his local works. He continued the positive work pattern on Sunday, when he went five-eighths in 1:00.80, the fastest time of 53 works at the distance that morning. It was Elite Alex’s first move since the allowance, and a notable one because he had sustained a small puncture wound in his left leg in that race.

“He came out of the work very well,” Ritchey said. “It was a good building work for his first work back after the troubled race last time. We’ll probably work him at least two more times now before the Southwest.”

Elite Alex went in company Sunday, under jockey Calvin Borel.

“I wanted to work him with a little faster horse, so I worked him with a filly that I knew would go a good half,” Ritchey said. “So he sat behind, got a little dirt in his face. I believe they went the half in 49 [seconds], then he went in 1:00.80 and galloped out in 1:14, which was good move.”

Ritchey co-owns Elite Alex with Chuck Zacney, James Dresher Jr., Bruce Gaston, and Charles Merrick III. The horse was a $300,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland in 2009. He is by Afleet Alex, the champion 3-year-old who was trained by Ritchey and co-owned by Zacney.

Ritchey said Elite Alex is also nominated to the 3-year-old series at Fair Grounds.

Superior Storm ships to Delta for Distaff

Superior Storm, the millionaire Louisiana-bred mare based at Oaklawn, has been entered in Saturday night’s $150,000 Distaff at Delta Downs. The race is part of the Premiere Night program of $1 million in stakes for horses bred in Louisiana.

◗ Northern Giant, who was fourth to Win Willy in the Fifth Season, returns to the overnight ranks in Friday’s eighth race, a second-level optional $35,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles. Terry Thompson has the mount for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.