08/08/2014 2:34PM

Sparkman: Afleet Alex's stud record solid and consistent

Shigeki Kikkawa
Iotapa, winner of last week's Clement Hirsch at Del Mar, is the third Grade 1 winner sired by champion Afleet Alex.

Afleet Alex might not have been the best Preakness winner in recent memory, but his 4 3/4-length win in the 2005 Pimlico classic was certainly the most dramatic and perhaps the most visually impressive of the early 21st century.

Afleet Alex made a huge move, weaving through the field on the final turn, but as he was about to pass leader Scrappy T on the outside coming off the turn, the latter’s rider, Ramon Dominguez, wound up and walloped Scrappy T with a left-handed whip.

Scrappy T responded by bounding sideways right into the path of Afleet Alex, who clipped his heels. Somehow, Afleet Alex managed to get his left front leg under him as his right splayed out in front of him; somehow, jockey Jeremy Rose stayed aboard. Somehow, Afleet Alex was back in full flight within a few strides and strode away to win brilliantly.

Afleet Alex raced only once more, winning the Belmont by seven lengths and confirming that he was the champion of what, in retrospect, was not among the best crops in the history of American racing. None of the other runners in that year’s Triple Crown races have become outstanding sires – Flower Alley’s 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another is probably the best horse sired by any of the participants – but on balance, Afleet Alex is the best sire of the crop, just as he was, on balance, the best racehorse. His daughter, Iotapa, the winner of the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 2, is Afleet Alex’s third Grade 1 winner among his 25 stakes winners from 504 foals ages 3 and up.

Bred in Florida by John Silvertand, Afleet Alex was plucked from the 2004 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training by trainer Tim Ritchey on behalf of the Cash Is King stable syndicate headed by Chuck Zacney. Afleet Alex won his first start, a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race at Delaware Park, only a little more than a month later, cruising to an 11 1/4-length victory in 1:03.85.

A 12-length allowance victory over the same course and distance two weeks later proved that his debut was no fluke, and Ritchey shipped the precocious colt to Saratoga, where he romped again, this time by 5 1/4 lengths, in the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes. Afleet Alex dealt with adversity for the first time in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes three weeks later. Trapped inside on a sloppy racetrack most of the way, he veered outside for his bid at the top of the stretch, then ducked farther out when Rose switched his whip to the left hand. Straightened with less than a sixteenth to run, he made up three lengths in a stirring finish to win by a neck over Devils Disciple.

That victory put Afleet Alex at the top of the list of the year’s 2-year-olds, but he had no excuses when he failed to catch Proud Accolade by a half-length in the Grade 1 Champagne. Sent off as the third betting choice behind Roman Ruler and Proud Accolade in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park, Afleet Alex made the lead in midstretch but could not hold off the closing rally of the 28-1 English-trained invader Wilko. Declan’s Moon, who had not faced any of the Eastern stars, earned champion 2-year-old male honors with a late-season win in the Hollywood Futurity.

Afleet Alex began his second season with an easy victory in the six-furlong Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn but ran the only bad race of his career in the Grade 3 Rebel Stakes, finishing sixth, beaten 12 1/2 lengths by Greater Good. Afleet Alex recovered quickly from the lung infection behind that poor performance and booked his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with an eight-length romp in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby.

That made him the second choice for the Kentucky Derby behind the impressive Wood Memorial winner Bellamy Road, but he did not get the best of rides. Rose moved Afleet Alex too early into the teeth of a very fast pace, and though he made the lead in midstretch, he could not hold on and finished third, a length behind the late-charging Giacomo.

Shortly after the Belmont, radiographs revealed a hairline condylar fracture of the left front cannon bone, and later in the year, further X-rays revealed a wedge of essentially dead bone near the original fracture. Given that it was that left front leg that Afleet Alex jammed into the Pimlico sand to remain upright in the Preakness, it is hard not to believe that the original injury actually occurred then and just took a while to manifest itself fully.

Retired to Gainesway in 2006, Afleet Alex sired the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes winner Dublin (out of Classy Mirage, by Storm Bird), the Grade 1 Travers Stakes winner Afleet Express (Expanse, by Distant View), the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Afleet Again (Lucky Again, by Wild Again), the Grade 2 winner Afleeting Lady (Oatsee, by Unbridled), and the Grade 2 winner Harissa (Dynasty, by Time for a Change) in his first crop. That was, in fact, a pretty spectacular start to any horse’s stud career, but until Iotapa came along in his fourth crop, those first-crop graded stakes winners were his five best offspring. Afleet Alex’s production in between those crops was rather uninspiring.

In truth, breeders have never really warmed up to Afleet Alex, perhaps partly because of his rather unfashionable pedigree. Afleet Alex is the best of 72 stakes winners by his sire, Northern Afleet, a powerfully built miler who was a decent sire in the United States but a very good one on shuttle journeys to Brazil, where he led the sire list in 2013. Afleet Alex’s dam, Maggy Hawk, by the undistinguished sire Hawkster, also produced his full brother, the stakes winner Unforgettable Max, and her dam was the Grade 1 winner Qualique, by Hawaii, but the next dam was by the unfashionable Sensitivo. None of those names was appealing to fashion-conscious Kentucky breeders, and Afleet Alex, though well made, is not the most imposing individual. His stud career has suffered as a consequence.

Iotapa’s dam, Concinnous, by El Corredor, won only one of her 15 starts, a 1 1/16-mile, $25,000 maiden claimer at Santa Anita as a 4-year-old. Frankly, that was not an unexpected result for a daughter of El Corredor out of Wild Jewel, by Wild Again. Bred in Kentucky by Beth Hipp Murphy, Concinnous was the seventh foal out of Wild Jewel, who ran second in the listed Prix Casimir Delamarre at Longchamp but did not produce a black-type earner among her 10 foals. Wild Jewel’s winning daughter, Wild as Elle, by Elnadim, has, however, produced the Group 3-placed Cougar Ridge, by Johannesburg.

Wild Jewel was a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Swift Appraisal, by Star de Naskra, and to three stakes producers, but one has to go back to Iotapa’s fourth dam, Alma North, to find a genuinely good horse in the family. By Northern Dancer out of Spaws Arrow, by Swaps, from the great family descending from Nasrullah’s grandam, Mumtaz Mahal, Alma North won the Grade 1 Matchmaker and two other graded stakes and was one of the best grass fillies of the early 1970s, an era when there was no Eclipse Award restricted to turf females.

Alma North produced only one minor stakes winner, Duns Scotus, by Buckpasser, but her daughters, Nina North, by Alleged, and Fit and Fancy, by Vaguely Noble, both produced graded or group winners, and Fit and Fancy is the third dam of the late Points Offthebench, by Benchmark, who was honored as 2013’s champion male sprinter.

Iotapa, Concinnous’s first foal, was bred in Kentucky by Gem Inc., Bajer, and O’Hara and races for Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler. Concinnous’s second foal, Saintly Joan, by Afleet Alex’s sire, Northern Afleet, has won 3 of 10 starts, including this year’s Little Silver Stakes at Monmouth. Her third foal, C’Mon Sister, by Successful Appeal, has placed once in three starts at 2 this year. Concinnous has not produced a live foal in the last two years but was bred to Tapit this year.

Afleet Alex’s overall stakes-winners-to-foals (ages 3 and up) ratio of 5 percent is respectable but does not match that of the best sires in the country, and he has failed to sire runners who could emulate his own success in classics. That, plus siring precocious 2-year-olds, constitutes the bar that every ambitious young stallion must hurdle to reach the top of the commercial market.

Afleet Alex was a talented, ultra-consistent competitor and as game and determined as any horse who ever looked through a bridle. He proved all that and more with his rather miraculous victory in the Preakness.

His stud career so far has been short of miracles, but his record remains solid and consistent.