`Alex,' Bandini rate nearly with `Road'

Saturday wins reinforce Derby status

`Rockport' due big test in Lexington

Horse Racing

April 18, 2005|By Paul Moran | Paul Moran,NEWSDAY

The wheat and chaff have parted company.

Though they didn't win with the panache that Bellamy Road did in claiming leadership among the Kentucky Derby candidates with his victory in the Wood Memorial, Afleet Alex and Bandini took positions immediately behind the division leader Saturday with wins in the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, respectively.

Only one race of significance remains in the culling process that will determine the pecking order among Derby-bound horses - Saturday's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in which the injury- and illness-hindered Rockport Harbor will attempt to resuscitate his flagging fortunes, exactly what Afleet Alex and Bandini accomplished Saturday.

Afleet Alex rebounded from a lung infection that manifested itself in the Rebel Stakes, in which he finished last of six last month, and did so convincingly. Bandini, scheduled originally to run in the Florida Derby, but diverted by a hoof injury, offered evidence he is back on course.

Both colts separated themselves from the competition Saturday, Afleet Alex drawing away to an eight-length victory while running nine furlongs in 1 minute, 48.80 seconds, and Bandini leaving the company of the highly regarded and previously undefeated High Limit in the last furlong to reach the wire in 1:50.16 with a six-length cushion.

Though several will find shreds of hope and rationalize their chances in the Derby, the results of Saturday's races, as was the case after the Wood a week earlier, were particularly disheartening for the connections of the vanquished.

While many handicappers will view Bandini's win dimly in measuring it against the clock, the Blue Grass field melted in the late stages. Afleet Alex's effort, slightly stronger in terms of speed than Bandini's, cast those who followed in a dim light.

With the exception of the winners, none of the entries in the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby - a total of 15 horses - seemed to want to go nine furlongs, an eighth of a mile short of the Derby distance.

Nevertheless, trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who said Going Wild's effort in the Wood - the horse finished 41 lengths behind Bellamy Road - was too bad to be believable and dismissed the Blue Grass, in which Consolidator finished 14 lengths behind Bandini, a race that has "never been conclusive," insisted he will send both to Louisville.

Sun King, fourth without an excuse in the Blue Grass, also is bound for Louisville, as is Flower Alley, a stablemate of Bandini who offered no argument to Afleet Alex in the final furlong of the Arkansas Derby. High Limit, a front-runner who failed to make the lead in the Blue Grass, is also expected to start at Churchill Downs on May 7.

The once-defeated Rockport Harbor, who will be tested in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington Stakes on Saturday, is the last unknown factor. He has run only once this year, finishing second to Greater Good - who was a beaten fifth in the Arkansas Derby, in the Rebel Stakes - and has since recovered from a blood clot in his throat.

"He should fit very well into that race," owner Rick Porter said. "If he wins the Lexington in good style, he will run in the Derby."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Triple Crown ratings

Horse Jockey Trainer Starts Win Place Show Last race Next race Date

1. Bellamy Road Javier Castellano Nick Zito 5 4 0 0 Wood Memorial (1st) Kentucky Derby 5-7

2. Bandini John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 5 3 1 0 Blue Grass Stakes (1st) Kentucky Derby 5-7

3. Afleet Alex Jeremy Rose Tim Ritchey 9 6 2 0 Arkansas Derby (1st) Kentucky Derby 5-7

4. Noble Causeway Edgar Prado Nick Zito 6 3 3 0 Florida Derby (2nd) Kentucky Derby 5-7

5. High Fly Jerry Bailey Nick Zito 6 5 0 1 Florida Derby (1st) Kentucky Derby 5-7

6. High Limit Ramon Dominguez Bobby Frankel 3 3 0 0 Blue Grass Stakes (2nd) Kentucky Derby 5-7

7. Buzzards Bay Mark Guidry Jeff Mullins 8 3 1 2 Santa Anita Derby (1st) Kentucky Derby 5-7

8. Sun King Edgar Prado Nick Zito 7 3 0 2 Blue Grass Stakes (4th) Kentucky Derby 5-7

9. Rockport Harbor Stewart Elliott John Servis 5 4 1 0 Rebel Stakes (2nd) Coolmore-Lexington 4-23

10. Flower Alley Jose Chavez Todd Pletcher 4 2 1 1 Arkansas Derby (2nd) Kentucky Derby 5-7

Triple Crown panel: Bill Christine, Los Angeles Times; Tom Keyser, The Sun; Dave Joseph, South Florida Sun-Sentinel; Liam Durbin, Chicago Tribune; Paul Moran, Newsday.

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