Wearing a set of blinkers with the goal of producing more early kick, highly ranked three-year-old ELITE ALEX (Afleet Alex) sped through an impressive workout Wednesday morning at Oaklawn Park to prepare for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 16, the finale of the famed Racing Festival of the South.
Under regular jockey and three-time Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Calvin Borel, the Tim Ritchey trainee drilled six furlongs in a handy 1:11 3/5 from the starting gate in company with Alex's Vision (Afleet Alex). The blinkers and the rush from the gate propelled Elite Alex into a quick opening quarter-mile in about :22 2/5 and a half-mile in :46 2/5.
He kept the engine revving around the turn and quickly dispatched the workmate turning for home, pulling far ahead of the stakes-winning four-year-old, who wrapped up his drill after five furlongs in 1:00 1/5. By that point Elite Alex was powering away, getting his five furlongs in :58 3/5 and galloping out to the clubhouse turn in 1:25 3/5 for seven furlongs.
"The blinkers made him jump out of there, but he was still finishing up the way he has the whole time," Borel said after the move. "That's what you want when you're running a mile-and-a-quarter."
Elite Alex has had buzz surrounding him all year, but troubled trips have kept him from getting his picture taken in the winner's circle in three tries. He reared at the start of his three-year-old debut and suffered a minor hoof injury, but still managed to finish second to another well regarded rival in Alternation (Distorted Humor). He was one of several horses hindered by a difficult trip in the Southwest S. (G3) and eventually finished third. Then, the bay skipped the Rebel S. (G2) because of a wide post only to land in an even wider starting stall in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds. Elite Alex settled for fourth in that contest after yet another wide trip.
"I still have confidence in him," Borel said. "He's coming up to the race like you want to see. I think if we can run first or second (in the Arkansas Derby) he will be the right kind of horse that can fit the way I ride in the Kentucky Derby (G1)."
Ritchey is using the blinkers to produce that prominent finish and avoid the trouble that has plagued the colt.
"I just wanted him to work a little faster and show more speed," Ritchey explained Wednesday morning. "We want to get him into the race a little sooner. That was his major work and it was good. We will see how he comes out of it and go from there."