Rose gets Derby ticket with ride aboard `Alex'

Winning Arkansas Derby earns seat in May 7 classic

Horse Racing

April 21, 2005|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

He was on the golf course Tuesday evening when the call came to ride in the Kentucky Derby.

"Getting the assignment was the easy part," said jockey Jeremy Rose. "Now, I just have to capitalize on it."

Rose became the latest in a line of former Maryland apprentice standouts - Chris McCarron and Kent Desormeaux immediately come to mind - to burst into the national spotlight when trainer Tim Ritchey informed him he had gained the assignment on Afleet Alex for the world's most famous race on May 7.

At Pimlico's opening day yesterday to race aboard two Michael Gill-owned horses, Rose was reveling in his good fortune after steering Afleet Alex to a convincing, eighth-length victory Saturday in the Arkansas Derby, the same steppingstone used by Smarty Jones to reach Churchill Downs last year.

"Everybody dreams about riding in the [Kentucky] Derby," said Rose, who recently turned 26, "and I have a legitimate shot at winning it."

Rose has been up on Afleet Alex - owned by the Cash Is King syndicate - in eight of the horse's nine starts, winning six times and running second twice.

The exception was the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park last month when the horse was bothered by a lung infection and finished last while being ridden by John Velazquez.

"I knew going out there that John was going to ride him," said Rose. "I expected him to keep the mount. There are a lot of top jockeys out there. I was lucky to get this."

Rose was the Eclipse Award winner as the outstanding apprentice in 2001 while breaking the record for earnings by a "bug boy" with more than $6.6 million. Much of his success came in Maryland that year as he finished with 312 wins, fourth in the country.

He said Afleet Alex "found his heart" while winning the Hopeful Stakes. "A lot of things went against us in that race."

They were first paired at Delaware Park last year when Afleet Alex launched his career with speedy 1:03 1/5 clockings in two 5 1/2 -furlong races.

Last year, Rose finished second in the Laurel winter meet standings and 10th overall in Maryland. He will shift to Delaware when that stand opens on April 30.

A crowd in excess of 5,400 turned out for opening day at Pimlico and watched the first two turf races of the year become upset specials.

In the maiden-filled fifth, three long shots followed favored Wintermix to the finish and completed a $11,032.20 superfecta. In the finale, three horses at long odds combined to produce a $4,981 trifecta.

At the winter meeting that ended Sunday at Laurel Park, wagering figures showed a 14 percent decline over the corresponding period in 2004. Total handle was $259.7 million, down from $304.5 million the previous year.

The meet was divided while the Laurel racing strip was being renovated, with the first three-plus weeks of live racing conducted at Pimlico.

Declines were registered virtually acorss the board in the betting categories and attendance dropped 4.2 percent overall.

Pimlico opens

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