Pride of Philadelphia
Preakness Stakes / Belmont Stakes winner
For several weeks in the summer of 2005, a sportsman from Philadelphia captured the nation’s attention. He was rarely if ever the biggest or strongest competitor, but he almost always earned victory by fighting the hardest and longest. His relationship with a charity devoted to fighting cancer that was started by a four-year-old girl made him that much more endearing. When an injury prematurely cut short his competitive career, it only seemed to advance the myth of his courage: His body might have betrayed him, but his heart of a fighting champion never would.
Afleet Alex is the son of Northern Afleet and Maggy Hawk, bred by John Silvertand. He is co-owned by the Cash is King stable collective of Chuck Zacney, who lives in Upper Providence, PA; by Jennifer Reeves, a native of the Somerton section of Philadelphia; by Joe Lerro, who resides in Langhorne; by Bob Brittingham, who lives in Collegeville; and by Joe Judge, who resides in Surf City, NJ.
His trainer Tim Ritchey, the five-time leading trainer at Delaware Park, simply called him the best horse he’s ever trained. He was ridden by Jeremy Rose, who broke the record for winnings by an apprentice and won the Eclipse Award in 2001. Rose was Delaware Park’s leading rider in 2001 and second-leading rider in 2002.
Afleet Alex had to fight from his earliest days. When his mother proved unable to nurse her baby, Silvertand’s daughter Lauren fed him milk from an empty beer bottle until a nurse mare was found. Because three of the horse’s co-owners have children named Alex, they added “Alex” to the name “Afleet.”
After Afleet Alex was born, Silvertand was diagnosed with colon cancer and given just a few months to live. Through his cancer treatments, Silvertand befriended four-year-old Alexandra Scott, who was diagnosed two days before her first birthday with a debilitating form of childhood cancer. To raise money to help the hospital that treated her cancer, “Alex” followed one of America’s most simple, enduring pastimes: She sold lemonade from a homemade stand in her front yard.
Though Scott lost her battle with cancer at age eight, her spirit lives on through the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. These two “Alex”es proved the perfect match: Afleet Alex’s owners contributed a percentage of his winnings, and all proceeds from the sale of Afleet Alex caps, to this charity. The bright yellow of Alex’s Lemonade Stands stood prominently at all three jewels of horse racing’s 2005 Triple Crown and reportedly raised $144,000 from lemonade sales and donations at these racetracks. Silvertand, who has long outlived his original prognosis, told the Associated Press before the 2005 Kentucky Derby, “The horse keeps me going. I truly believe he’s helping me in my battle.”
Afleet Alex won the 2005 Arkansas Derby, one of the final major preparatory races for the Kentucky Derby, by a record eight lengths. He then finished third in the Kentucky Derby behind winner Giacomo.
His victory in the Preakness two weeks later was the stuff of legend: One of his front feet clipped the heels of the front-running horse, Scrappy T. He stumbled, seemingly on his way to completely falling. Afleet Alex went down nearly to his knees but stabbed out his front foot, somehow regained his balance, caught Scrappy T. in the upper stretch, and pulled away to win in the fastest Preakness running time since 1998.
Three weeks later he passed the field (including Giacomo) in the final turn to win the Belmont Stakes by seven lengths, running the fastest final quarter since 1969.
Afleet Alex was retired in late 2005 by a hairline condylar fracture of his left front cannon bone. It was originally thought that he suffered this break during a July workout; avascular necrosis, the dying of bone tissue, was later diagnosed in the area of this break. It is now believed that the condition was caused by an undetected deep bone bruise that was most likely sustained when he fought to right himself in the Preakness.
Afleet Alex won eight of his twelve career starts. He was the World’s Top Ranked Three-Year-Old Intermediate Distance Horse for 2005, and won the Eclipse Award for 2005 Champion Three-Year-Old Colt or Gelding. His dramatic performance in the Preakness was voted the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Moment of the Year.
The Afleet Alex group worked with the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to sell special buttons, hats and T-shirts bearing the horse’s likeness and the slogan, “Courage. Strength. Heart.” No better epitaph for the career of Afleet Alex will ever be written.