ELMONT, N.Y. - The tranquility of a Belmont Stakes without a Triple Crown on the line ended yesterday with jockey Jeremy Rose exchanging barbs with a New York trainer and trainer Tim Ritchey relocating Afleet Alex to avoid new neighbors.
Ritchey and Rose, who live in Maryland, had already been the center of attention because of their association with Afleet Alex, popular winner of the Preakness and likely favorite in tomorrow's Belmont. Afleet Alex will face 10 challengers, including Giacomo, winner of the Kentucky Derby.
The sparring session between Rose and John Parisella, a longtime New York trainer, began early in the week with this Parisella comment in the New York Post: "[Jeremy Rose] is a very nice kid, but if Bailey or Velazquez or Prado had been riding [Afleet Alex] all along, we could be looking at a Triple Crown winner."
Parisella's implication was that a more experienced jockey might have ridden Afleet Alex to victory in the Kentucky Derby.
The Post, a tabloid that relishes the sensational, then sought Rose's reaction. It came in an installment of Rose's "Belmont Diary," a daily glance into the jockey's life this week as told to a Post columnist.
"I'll introduce myself to Parisella ... and we'll have a little chat," Rose supposedly said. "I'd like to know what he thinks I did wrong in the Derby while we're face to face. If he just wants to be a wise apple, then we have a problem. ... If you see this Parisella guy before I do, tell him I'm looking for him."
The next day, Parisella shot back in a Post column:
"This kid is talking like a thug. He's going to come looking for me? Who does he think he is? ... I called his agent early this morning, gave him my barn number here - and told him I'd be waiting for his jock."
The dispute peaked yesterday in Rose's diary:
"It sounds like this New York trainer John Parisella guy needs a hug. He called me a thug? That's funny. I'm not gonna waste my time with him now. ... I know I'm such a scary guy. All 112 pounds of me."
In an interview yesterday afternoon with The Sun, Rose said he wouldn't be doing the diary anymore.
"A couple of things in there weren't accurate," he said. "Like me looking for him and all, I never actually said all that. ... They're blowing it all out of proportion."
Also yesterday, Parisella told The Sun that he tried initially to minimize his criticism of Rose. Parisella, 60, said he's been betting on horses since he was 10. He said he thought Rose lost the Derby by whipping Afleet Alex right-handed in deep stretch, forcing the colt toward the rail onto a deeper, slower part of the racetrack.
"I'm saying a guy with five, 10 years' experience, in my opinion, would have won that race," Parisella said.
It was the first Derby for Rose, 26. After reading Rose's response in the diary, Parisella said, "I had to answer him."
With the quarrel apparently over, Ritchey again expressed confidence in Rose. A debate has ensued since last summer over whether Rose, inexperienced in major races, should remain the rider of Afleet Alex. His performance in the Preakness, when he managed to hang on while Afleet Alex stumbled, had seemed to still any criticism.
"I don't think any other jockey in America could have ridden Alex better in the Arkansas Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness," Ritchey said. "Jeremy's riding has reached a new plateau. He's my man."
Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon, Afleet Alex received new neighbors in Barn 14 on the Belmont backstretch. They were horses flown in from Kentucky for the Belmont and supporting stakes. One of the horses was Nolan's Cat, a long shot in the Belmont trained by the Kentucky-based Dale Romans.
Several of Romans' horses have tested positive for strangles, beginning in December at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. His horses also tested positive for the disease in March in South Florida. Strangles is a contagious bacterial infection that attacks the respiratory system.
In addition, an outbreak of equine herpes occurred last month at Churchill Downs. That is a potentially fatal virus that causes respiratory and neurological problems.
Yesterday morning, with Nolan's Cat residing on the same side of Barn 14 as Afleet Alex, Ritchey told track officials that he wanted his horse moved. Ritchey confronted Romans.
Neither trainer would discuss their conversation, but Romans said Ritchey made it clear he wanted new digs for Afleet Alex.
"If he's not comfortable being in a barn with horses from Kentucky, then so be it," Romans said. "If he wants to move his horse, more power to him."
Even though the Kentucky horses arrived with clean bills of health, Ritchey had demonstrated his concern for Afleet Alex's health by keeping the colt at Pimlico an extra week after the Preakness while veterinarians investigated a potential case of strangles at Belmont. Only after veterinarians determined that the sick filly did not have strangles did Ritchey ship Afleet Alex to Belmont. He arrived Saturday.