The 9-2 second choice in Saturday's Kentucky Derby is the only horse among the 20 Derby runners that went through a twice-a-day regimen similar to what players endure at training camp.
Afleet Alex started most mornings during Derby week with a two-mile jog, went back to his Churchill Downs stall and then returned to the track for a 1 1/2-mile gallop. Afterward, he got a bath and a break.
His rivals, including 5-2 favorite Bellamy Road and third-choice Bandini, were on the track only once a day.
"I think I'm doing the right thing for my particular horse," said Tim Ritchey, who planned to wear a gray Steelers T-shirt under his suit and tie. "Every trainer tries to do the right thing with every one of their horses. Not every horse might excel with it, but I think my horse does."
Three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert wondered, though.
"He's a neat little horse," Baffert said, "but he may be getting tired."
If anyone should be tired, it's Nick Zito, a two-time Derby winner who has a record-tying five entries for the record $2.4 million purse. One is Bellamy Road, owned by New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner.
The colt won his last two races by a combined 33 lengths.
"Bellamy Road's role is the favorite and everyone is out to get the favorite," he said. "This is not a gimme. They're not handing us the Derby."
Zito also had High Fly, the 8-1 fourth choice, along with Noble Causeway (12-1), Sun King (15-1) and Andromeda's Hero (50-1).
He planned to saddle each horse himself, and then watch the race with his wife, Kim, so he wouldn't show favoritism.
"You have to be a politician. You have to be diplomatic," he said.
Trainer Todd Pletcher had three horses entered: Bandini, Coin Silver and Flower Alley.
Afleet Alex, though, was one of the sentimental choices.
Like last year's Derby winner Smarty Jones, the colt has a trainer based at a small mid-Atlantic track and a jockey hardly known in racing circles. And like Funny Cide in 2003, "Alex" is owned by a group of fun-loving friends. They will donate part of any winnings to a children's cancer charity.
Afleet Alex has six wins in nine career starts, finishing out of the money just once. He had an excuse for that last-place finish in the Rebel Stakes -- a lung infection.
"An amazing story," Ritchey said. "I'm proud to be part of it."