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The ride of his life

The Baltimore Sun

STANTON, Del. -- It has been three years since jockey Jeremy Rose rode Afleet Alex to a stunning victory in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. But as he sat on a bench outside the jockeys' room at Delaware Park this week, he still could feel the horse under him, still sense the disaster nearly averted. And still recall it as if he had just finished the race.

"At the three-eighths pole, we were still six or seven lengths off it [the lead]," said Rose, excitement touching his voice. "The horse in front of me decided to go out, around Scappy T and another horse. It was beautiful how he went out, giving me a perfect trip on the inside.

"Turning for home, I had a lot of horse. I was cruising. I was going to win by as many as I wanted. But I saw Ramon [Dominguez on Scrappy T] swish his stick, and I yelled. Normally, it can be fine. But, in this case, Scrappy T jumped out hard in front of me and Alex stumbled and went down. All I saw was Ramon's horse's [backside] and heels. Somehow, Alex popped back up and took off again. Within 2 yards, he was back in front of Scrappy T and we went on to win the race."

Rose, who has just gotten his summer buzz-cut haircut, couldn't help smiling.

"You'll never see another horse do that in any race," said Rose, who will be back in the Preakness on Saturday riding Icabad Crane.

And you might never see another jockey stay on his horse in a situation like that, either.

"I ride long," he said. "I don't sit on top. I have more leg on the horse and my feet were all the way in the irons - and I was lucky, too, that he popped up underneath me the way he did."

It is still a glorious memory. Rose had won the race at the track he considers his own backyard.

"I grew up near there," said Rose, 29. "We wanted to win the Derby, but the Preakness was the one for me. Riding there. A lot of friends there. A lot of people backing me there. That was the race I really wanted, and [I] obviously had the horse to do it.

"Winning that race on Afleet Alex gave me the best feeling I've ever had in racing."

And he wants it again.

He chased it for a little while, going to Gulfstream Park to ride Afleet Alex in the winter, but the horse was retired. Rose stayed, finishing among the top five riders in the meet. He made new contacts and expanded his reputation.

"He's a smart rider," said Bowie-based trainer Chris Grove, who put Rose on his star filly, Silmaril. "He's the kind of rider who comes back after a race and can give you good information - like changing equipment or distance or tactical advice. And he cares.

"Sometimes you ride a jockey who is just not into it. Jeremy is never like that. He always takes each mount personal."

Rose turned down opportunities to go to California and New York to race, saying he likes "the country life." He lives near the Fair Hill Training Center with his girlfriend, Diane Alvardo, and their five dogs, and makes a good living riding in the Mid-Atlantic region.

"It's a business decision," Rose said. "The cost of living in Florida is higher. In Maryland, I get much bigger opportunities to ride better horses. Maryland has always been good to me. ... And here in Delaware, the purses are always good."

Last year, Rose's horses had purse earnings of $9,147,449, 19th best in the country.

Still, none of that means he has lost interest in the big-time horses.

"I'd like to win a Breeders' Cup race," he said. "The two times I rode, I was second. And I'd like another shot at the Derby. That would be nice."

It's not the Derby, but Saturday he will be riding a horse he said can compete with the field, if not Derby winner Big Brown.

Rose will ride Federico Tesio Stakes winner Icabad Crane for Fair Hill-based trainer Graham Motion.

"I definitely think we can run second or third," Rose said.

Icabad Crane, sired by Jump Start and undefeated on the dirt, is what Motion calls "a laid-back, sensible horse who is mature beyond his years." He also said the horse is tough, which Motion added is a trait he shares with his jockey.

"Jeremy is very determined," Motion said. "Very gutsy. You know you'll get your money's worth with him, because he hates to lose. He's quite hard on himself."

Rose had the highest winning percentage of any rider at Laurel Park last winter, winning 32 percent of the time, including 17 stakes victories. That trend has continued this spring at Delaware, where he leads the jockey standings and is again winning more than 30 percent of the time.

But Rose is still kicking himself for not winning the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

"If I could ride the Derby on Alex again, he would win," Rose said. "But I wasn't as experienced as I am now. ... If I could do it again, I'd have stayed back with Giacomo. There's no way that horse should have ever beaten him."

Though Rose rode Big Brown to his maiden victory at Saratoga - before IEAH Stables purchased majority ownership and then chose Kent Desormeaux to ride him - and also was on board Derby horse Cool Coal Man for his maiden win, another big ride in the biggest race hasn't happened. But Motion said that's just a matter of time.

"It's a little tougher to get the big horse when you're not working that [national] circuit," Motion said. "But there is no doubt he's going to have those horses in his future. He has become a very seasoned rider, and I think a lot of people have become very comfortable going to Jeremy Rose."

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