PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Afleet Alex’s gritty recovery to win the Preakness after nearly crumpling to the dirt was a dazzling highlight in the colt’s career. The frightening collision also may have played a role in the horse’s early retirement.

Afleet Alex was retired Thursday because of a new injury discovered before the horse was shipped to Gulfstream Park in Florida this week.

Another ankle injury had already sidelined Afleet Alex since his June 11 victory in the Belmont.

“This injury probably started with that Preakness and, unfortunately, it’s been something we haven’t seen,” trainer Tim Ritchey said.

“It’s going to take too long to heal and he has to go on to another career where he’ll be safe and happy.”

Ritchey believes the recently discovered injury started as a bone bruise at the Preakness and caused the fracture in the colt’s left front ankle. The fracture has healed. The other injury is basically brittle bone that was once badly bruised, and has slowly lost its blood supply.

“It will heal, but you’re looking at six to eight months,” Ritchey said. “And with a horse of his value and his credentials, he just needs to be retired and go to stud.”

Afleet Alex retires with eight wins in 12 starts and earnings of $2,765,800 for the Cash Is King Stable, and nearly became the sport’s 12th Triple Crown winner.

He finished third in the Kentucky Derby by a length, won the Preakness after nearly being knocked down by Scrappy T in the turn for home and won the Belmont by seven lengths. Jockey Jeremy Rose was aboard Afleet Alex for all three Triple Crown races.

“We’re all very disappointed and frustrated,” Cash is King managing partner Chuck Zacney said on the Afleet Alex Web site. “We were really looking forward to racing Alex next year and to showing just how great a horse he was. I don’t think horse racing fans saw the best of Alex. They saw a lot of very good races. But, the way he was growing and maturing, I really feel the best was yet to come.”

There is no deal pending on where the colt will stand at stud.

“The next step is to find a good home for Alex,” Zacney said.

With his Philadephia-area ownership and modest start, the colt became nearly as popular as Smarty Jones, another Philly-based horse with humble beginnings that also won two Triple Crown races before retiring.

Afleet Alex ran to raise money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which started with one simple front-yard stand run by Alexandra Scott, a little girl from Wynnewood, Pa., who raised money for cancer research one glass of lemonade at a time.

Scott died last year after fighting an aggressive form of childhood cancer almost since birth. But her legacy lived on thanks to Zacney and his horse, bringing a greater awareness – and increased donations – to the lemonade stand.

“If we could put a little sunlight on them, I think it was a privilege,” Ritchey said.

Afleet Alex was hand fed with a beer bottle full of milk at birth, overcame a lung infection and then won the Arkansas Derby. Rose also was removed for a more experienced jockey before the Arkansas Derby until a scheduling conflict put him back in the saddle.

There was the thrilling near-fall in the Preakness when Afleet Alex’s nose came about 4 inches from the dirt after he clipped heels with Scrappy T. Rose held on to the mane, restored balance and somehow turned a scare into a remarkable victory.

“Normally horses don’t do what he did in the Preakness and go on to win,” Ritchey said.

But it appears the accident came at a price. Ritchey said veterinarian Patricia Hogan of The New Jersey Equine Center became increasingly concerned when the other injury began to appear in X-rays weeks after the colt had surgery in July to repair the fracture.

“If we had seen it earlier, we would have gone in a different direction and not even attempted to bring him back,” Ritchey said.

Ritchey bought the colt at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale at Timonium for $75,000. It was the first horse purchased by Cash is King, which consists of Zacney, Joe Lerro, Bob Brittingham, Jennifer Reeves and Joe Judge, all from the Philadelphia area.

AP-ES-12-01-05 1718EST

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