NEW YORK (AP) – All along, trainer Tim Ritchey believed the more miles he put into Afleet Alex in the mornings the better the results would be in the afternoons.

So far, so good.

Despite an unusual training regimen of two-a-day workouts since late last year, Afleet Alex seems to be thriving from all the extra romps around racetracks. All that’s left, after a few more morning gallops, is the grueling 1 miles of Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

That, Ritchey says, makes the Preakness winner is more than up to the challenge against 10 rivals, including Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo.

“This horse has a lot of stamina,” Ritchey said. “I think he’ll run as far as they run races.”

The Belmont is as far as most thoroughbreds are asked to run, a reason the final leg of the Triple Crown is known as the “Test of the Champion.”

Afleet Alex has shown he is all champion, especially after his remarkable recovery in the Preakness. The son of Northern Afleet was nearly knocked to his knees after Scrappy T veered into his path at the top of the stretch, but Afleet Alex regained his momentum and pulled away for a 4-length victory.

“He’s got something special, which he had to have to overcome the Preakness fiasco,” Ritchey said. “He’s the most athletic and agile horse I’ve ever been around.”

Afleet Alex came up a length short in the Derby, finishing third behind 50-1 long shot Giacomo and 71-1 shot Closing Argument, but his miraculous recovery in the Preakness has racing fans anxious to see what’s next.

Afleet Alex was tabbed the 6-5 favorite at Wednesday’s post position draw, with Giacomo the second choice at 4-1 in the rubber match between the Derby and Preakness winners.

The rest of the field totals one graded stakes win – Southern Africa won the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby – and it has a combined record of 16 wins from 54 starts. The field looks to be the weakest since Commendable won in 2000 without the Derby or Preakness winner in the race.

Handling the long, sweeping turns of the Belmont will be a formidable task for Afleet Alex and jockey Jeremy Rose, who hasn’t ridden very often at Belmont Park. Rose isn’t worried.

“He’s pretty much showed me he can do anything you ask him,” Rose said.

Last year, Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones was pushed in the early going and lost his Triple try in the final strides to Birdstone. Rose doesn’t think a similar scenario will occur Saturday.

“Smarty was a speed horse who liked to be up close, and when he got pressured he wanted to go,” Rose said. “Alex, he just goes when you ask him. I could take him back to last if I want. I could put him on the lead if I want. I can send him wide if I want. It doesn’t matter.

“If we’re within four or five lengths at the quarter pole, I don’t think anyone in here can outkick me if he’s relaxed at that point.”

Giacomo could be the one, though. The Derby winner finished a credible third in the Preakness, and trainer John Shirreffs has said the Belmont fits his gray colt’s closing style best of all the Triple Crown races.

On credentials alone, Afleet Alex is way out in front of the field.

The colt has won seven of 11 races and earned $2,165,800 for owners Cash Is King, a group of five Philadelphia-area partners who bought Alex for $75,000.

With four graded stakes wins – the Sanford, Hopeful, Arkansas Derby and Preakness – Afleet Alex has twice as many as the rest of the field. There’s Giacomo’s Derby win and Southern Africa’s Lone Star Derby score, and that’s it.

Trainer Nick Zito entered three horses: 15-1 Andromeda’s Hero (eighth in the Derby), and 20-1 shots Pinpoint and Indy Storm. Zito called his trio “up-and-comers” but marvels at Afleet Alex’s consistency.

“He was a great 2-year-old,” Zito said. “You used to have horses win the Hopeful and come back and win the Belmont and Travers, so he’s kind of a throwback.”

The same cannot be said for the others. One horse – 50-1 Nolan’s Cat – looking for his first career win after five losses. Three others come into the race with only a maiden win – 12-1 Chekhov, 20-1 A.P. Arrow and 50-1 Watchmon.

However, upsets have been the norm of late. Four of the last six Belmonts produced huge payouts – Birdstone returned $74 for a $2 bet, Sarava paid a record $174.50 in 2002, Commendable paid $39.60 in 2000 and Lemon Drop Kid returned $61.50 in 1999.

“Alex and Giacomo look tremendous on paper,” Zito said, “but the Belmont is a mile-and-a-half and that’s why the Triple Crown is so hard.”

BELMONT NOTES: This will be just the third Belmont in the past nine years without a Triple Crown on the line … Afleet Alex is attempting to become the 18th horse to pull off a Preakness-Belmont double – Point Given did it last, in 2001 … Giacomo is attempting to become the 12th horse to pull off a Derby-Belmont double – Thunder Gulch did it last, in 1995 … Post time for the Belmont is 6:38 p.m. EDT … 2003 Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide was entered in the Brooklyn Handicap on the Belmont undercard.

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