Local connections nearly tasted Preakness glory and disaster — all at once
by Nick Hahn
It was as breath-taking a moment as the Preakness has ever produced and one of its most memorable. One word — “Bump” –turns minds to the 2005 edition linking Scrappy T and Afleet Alex.
Running third in the Derby two weeks prior, Afleet Alex was indeed the public’s horse, the adopted poster equine of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a non-profit for cancer research. Jeremy Rose had piloted all of Afleet Alex’s 6 wins for trainer Tim Ritchey.
Scrappy T gathered several decent checks with different jockeys aboard, including a win the Count Fleet at Aqueduct to begin his 3-year old season, but owner Marshall Dowell and trainer Robbie Bailes thought it best to sit the Kentucky Derby out. While many top 3-year olds were preparing for the Derby, Scrappy T quietly won the Withers stakes at Aqueduct as Churchill Downs celebrated opening day.
When it comes to horse racing, there is little daylight between owner the owner of Scrappy T, Marshall Dowell, and trainer Robbie Bailes. Dowell previously owned of a Harley Davidson dealership in Mechanicsville, Virginia, northeast of Richmond. He knew Bailes’s father, Meredith Bailes, the first person to ride Secretariat.
“Robbie and I tend to agree on many things,” explains Dowell about the Maryland-based trainer. “The Preakness is closer to home, a shorter distance. I felt he would be better suited for the Preakness. Robbie and I are similar to our approach to horses.”
Perhaps it was a conservative approach for the mild mannered tandem with a horse capable of running in the Derby, but they knew their horse and they knew Pimlico. Still, they were having the time of their horse racing lives relishing the hospitality of the Maryland Jockey Club that included box seats for an Oriole game at Camden Yards
“It was a life-changing experience at the time, that’s for sure,” observes Bailes.
Coming out of the turn for home, Bailes watched his gelding with Ramon Dominquez aboard for the first time make the lead and for a half-furlong or so. It appeared the front running form that he showed in the Count Fleet and the Withers at Aqueduct might be good enough to win the Preakness.
“We were in a position to win the race, we thought,” recalls Dowell.
“When he made the lead, I thought I was home. I really did,” says Bailes. “I didn’t think they would run him down.”
“They” didn’t run him down — except for Rose, who had pushed the button on Afleet Alex and was picking up lengths in bunches.
Within a stride or two of straightening for the stretch, Dominquez, looking to switch leads whipped Scrappy T on the left side. While Afleet Alex was galloping full north-south, Scrappy T’s stride went east-west, mostly west.
The two collided with Afleet Alex going to his knees. What may have been the accomplishment of a lifetime for Dowell and Bailes nearly turned into disaster. Rose corrected Afleet Alex who continued as if unimpeded to the Preakness wire and a four-plus length win.
Bailes had seen something at the top of the stretch and the result at the wire. What lay between was an eternity with numerous outcomes that even included a slight chance of a Preakness win.
“Watching it, it seemed like it took forever from the top of the stretch to the wire,” remembers Bailes. “Of course, it only took a couple of seconds. I didn’t know exactly what he did at the time because I was watching it outside. I definitely saw what happened as far as seeing Jeremy almost fall off. So many things are racing through your mind. Whose fault was it? Are we coming down? Is Afleet Alex coming down?”
Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo was third in the Preakness. If Dominquez and Rose had lost their mounts — for a moment, a distinct possibility — a Triple Crown bid may have been alive.
Scrappy T was second to cross the wire, yet Bailes’ charge was to check the condition of his horse. Scrappy stood nearly motionless, a perfect patient if you will, while Bailes walked around and viewed him from umpteen different angles. While Bailes was examining his horse, the stewards examined the tape and found no need to alter the result of the race. Bailes and Dowell may not have achieved their dream, but they eluded their nightmare and conceded that it took an exceptional performance by Afleet Alex to deny their Preakness bid.[pullquote]For a small town guy like me to go up and experience that, well, it was an experience of a lifetime,” says Dowell. “It creates a strong desire to do it again.”[/pullquote]
“It took two extraordinary athletes to be able to do what they did,” explains Dowell about Rose’s feat aboard Afleet Alex. “You put another rider on, you don’t know what happens. He’s on another horse, you don’t know what happens. It took both of them together. Fortunately for everyone involved, it worked out for the best.”
Dowell and Bailes returned to the Preakness in 2007, with Mint Slewlep finishing an uneventful seventh in a nine-horse field; they are awaiting their next opportunity. Scrappy T is enjoying retirement as a “gentleman” at Dowell’s Ocala, Florida farm.
“For a small town guy like me to go up and experience that, well, it was an experience of a lifetime,” says Dowell. “It creates a strong desire to do it again.”
Below, Scrappy T and Afleet Alex slug it out in the 2005 Preakness, punctuated by Dave Rodman’s fantastic call of the race.