Lover of colts, Colts returns to take Run at Preakness glory


There's only one trainer in Saturday's 118th Preakness who named his dog after a Baltimore Colt football player.

The dog's name was Bert Jones.

The trainer is Frank Alexander, who will saddle Cherokee Run at Pimlico. When Jones was quarterbacking the Colts two decades ago, Alexander was managing Alfred Vanderbilt's Sagamore Farm in Glyndon. Like most sports-minded people around here at that time, Alexander was a Colts fan.

Since then, Baltimore hasn't seen a whole lot of either Jones, who is working in Louisiana, or of Frank Alexander, who has been training horses in New York and Florida.

But Baltimore hasn't forgotten Bert Jones, who led the Colts to the playoffs three times, and. . . well, let's put it this way: Frank Alexander will never forget Baltimore.

"I spent a lot of good years here, managing Sagamore for Alfred from 1970 to 1974 and training horses in Maryland after that," Alexander said when he arrived at Pimlico with his Preakness hopeful.

Alexander put Cherokee Run through his final workout yesterday at Belmont Park, then vanned to Pimlico early today.

"He worked good at Belmont," Alexander said. "We kept him up there because the track down here is pretty dried out.

"We breezed him nice and easy yesterday. We were looking for 37 [seconds] and he went 37 and 3. I look for him to run a big race in the Preakness."

There are those around the stakes barn who feel Cherokee Run is ready to run a very big race here.

He has won his last two starts, the Lafayette at Keeneland on April 6 and the Kentucky Derby Trial at the same track on April 24.

Alexander and the colt's owner, Jill Robinson, decided not to run him in the Derby, seven days after the Trial. Years ago the Derby Trial was run on Tuesday of Derby week and weeded out some of the field for America's greatest race four days later.

"I thought the Derby was too soon after the Trial," Alexander says. "We didn't beat any great horses in the Derby Trial. I thought it'd be better to save him and bring him to Baltimore fresh for the Preakness."

There's another reason why a smart horseman like Alexander would keep Cherokee Run out of the Derby.

The colt has early speed. In his last two wins, he was never further back than second.

The Derby, the longest of the Triple Crown races at 1 1/4 miles, has a way of chewing up front-runners and spitting them out. The Preakness, at 1 3/16 miles, is the shortest of the three classics.

"We're doing what Alydeed did last year," said Alexander. "He won the Derby Trial, skipped the Derby, and then came to Pimlico and ran a real nice race in the Preakness."

Alydeed led by two lengths going into the stretch here. He finished second, three-quarters of a length behind Pine Bluff.

Alexander doesn't kid himself when it comes to predicting how a horse will perform. He has been around horses most of his 55 years, starting with showing hunters and jumpers on Long Island when he was 16.

Alexander trained Wallenda in this year's Derby. He wasn't surprised when that colt finished 13th in the 19-horse field.

"He didn't train well and he drew a bad post position [16]," said Alexander. "He just couldn't handle the track at Churchill."

Improving on Alydeed's place finish in last year's Preakness won't be easy.

"The Derby winner [Sea Hero] is a nice horse," said Alexander, "and he has a great trainer [Mack Miller].

"If we don't win the Preakness, I hope Sea Hero can win it for [owner] Paul Mellon. He and Mack Miller are so respected.

"That's what racing needed -- a really popular Kentucky Derby winner. We need a hero, another Triple Crown winner like Secretariat."

Alexander has Pat Day up on Cherokee Run. Day is 2-0 with the colt, aboard when he won the Lafayette and the Derby Trial.

"Pat Day is a great rider," said Alexander.

To be sure, a Preakness victory for Sea Hero and Mellon, 85, would be popular with sportsmen everywhere, but in Maryland there would be joy and shouting if Cherokee Run should win -- and not because his owner, Jill Robinson, needs the purse money any more than Mellon does. The Robinsons, who are out of Atlanta, are among the 100 wealthiest families in the country.

Frank Alexander is a popular man with a lot of friends around here.

"Frank's a good horseman," said Eric Blind, who will start his 13th Preakness Saturday.

You hear a lot of talk like that around Pimlico this week. We'll hear a lot more if Cherokee Run wins the Preakness.

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