An astonishing story had its fourth chapter written Saturday. In case you haven’t been following, here’s the tale so far:
- The little colt Afleet Alex was not expected to survive his first few days. As his trainer Tim Ritchey recalls: “His mother had some problems at birth and unfortunately she didnít have any milk, so he was bottle fed by two little girls at the farm where he was for 24 hours a day for the first 12 days of his life. He learned at an early age that he had to be very trusting of people and thatís something that has carried over. To this day, he just has complete faith and trust in humans.î
- His breeder, John Silvertand, was diagnosed with colon cancer nearly three years ago, shortly after Afleet Alex was born, and given just three months to live. But the 60-year-old former Royal Air Force pilot has watched Alex combine natural talent and a remarkable work ethic to become one of the world’s best thoroughbreds, and has become close friends with the owners, collectively known as Cash Is King Stable. ìThe horse keeps me going,î Silvertand told the Associated Press this week by telephone before his departure. ìI truly believe heís helping me in my battle.î Cash is King is another Cinderella story, consisting of five Philadelphia friends, three of whom have never even owned a horse before, Joe Lerro, Chuck Zacney, Jennifer Reeves, Bob Brittingham and Joe Judge. They describe themselves as ìjust a bunch of knuckleheads trying to have some funî. Their love of the sport prompted them to invest $70,000 to buy the colt. They named it Alex because three of them had children by that name.
- Seven years ago, four years before Afleet Alex was born, ten-month-old Alexandra ìAlexî Scott was diagnosed with an aggressive form of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma. At the age of 4, Alex decided to raise money to give to the hospital where she was undergoing cancer treatment. With her parents, Jay and Liz, she came up with a tried-and-true approach: A lemonade stand in the front yard. Word soon spread about her inspirational fight, which she continued when her family moved to Philiadelphia to continue her treatment at that city’s cancer hospital. After local media reports on her fundraising drive, similar stands popped up around the country. Alex died last year Aug. 1 at the age of 8, but not before seeing the fund that she started with her little lemonade stand grow into the Alexís Lemonade Stand Foundation, which has now raised nearly $2 million to battle pediatric cancer and is working to raise $3 million more. The coincidence of the name, the brave fight against adversity and the Philadelphia location came to the attention of the Cash is King gang, and they called the Scotts and volunteered to donate a portion of the horseís winnings to her cause. The colt’s ownershave also worked with the foundation to sell special T-shirts, hats and buttons bearing Afleet Alexís likeness and bearing the words, ìCourage. Strength. Heart.î
- Afleet Alex seemed destined for greatness, and after a third-place finish in this year’s Kentucky Derby, his story attracted a record number of people to Saturday’s Preakness race. Silverstand and the owners were there, pitching in at the Lemonade Stand. And then as the race reached the final seconds, what looked like certain disaster struck. The horse in front of Afleet Alex suddenly swerved in front of Alex and clipped him in the knee with his back hoof. Alex buckled and lost balance, and, as NBC Sports put it “It almost defies explanation how an animal that weighs 1,100 pounds and is running at roughly 30 mph can catch itself as it falls, somehow ignoring the law of gravity by willing a spindly leg that is only about as thick as the human wrist at its narrowest point to halt its descent and return it to flight. To do so and then return to running moments after what must have been a deeply disturbing collision with mortality is even more remarkable.” But that is precisely what happened. To the amazement of the crowd and even jockey Jeremy Rose, Alex recovered and pushed past the other horse to win the Preakness by three lengths going away.
Watch the slide show, think about this story, and I dare you to keep your eyes dry.