Sweet lemonade stand story came out of 2005 Triple Crown
The idea of a lemonade stand to help raise money for pediatric cancer was the inspiration of a 4-year-old girl named Alex Scott in 2000. What started out as a single stand outside of her Connecticut home grew into a national horse-racing phenomenon in 2005, the year after Alex died.
Alex’s Lemonade Stand was a cause everyone in horse racing rallied behind, and in 2005 lemonade overtook mint juleps, black-eyed susans or Belmont breezes as the toast of the Triple Crown.
Alex Scott’s parents, Liz and Jay Scott, connected with Chuck Zacney of Cash is King Stable, which raced 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, and joined forces to help raise awareness for the charity. There was a lemonade stand at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby and at Pimlico Race Course for the Preakness Stakes. Those were in addition to lemonade stands at multiple other tracks around the country throughout the Triple Crown.
Racetracks were eager to lend support to the vision of an amazing and inspirational little girl. By the time the 2005 Belmont Stakes rolled around there were at least 30 lemonade stands at racetracks across the country, including host Belmont Park.
In 2005, Afleet Alex and his connections helped the charity raise $4-million to combat pediatric cancer.
"Connecting with Alex’s Lemonade Stand and Liz and Jay Scott was special," Zacney said. "It certainly wasn’t planned and everything really fell into place with that as well. So many good memories; so many things really worked out.
"It was neat having the lemonade stand there, and even after that being associated with such a terrific charity, a terrific organization and terrific people. It was unintentional and it was just something that really turned out well."
Alex Scott was born in Manchester, Conn. on Jan. 18, 1996. Shortly before her first birthday, Alex was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer.
She underwent an estimated 60 rounds of chemotherapy during her life. After a stem-cell transplant in 2000, she decided that she wanted to open a lemonade stand to raise money for doctors to "help other kids, like they helped me."
"I was really proud of her that she wanted to do something to help others. I thought it was kind of cute, but I didn’t think she would really have an impact," Liz Scott said. "I thought it was cute that she thought a lemonade stand would make a difference."
Her first lemonade stand raised $2,000, but over the next few years Alex Scott’s inspirational story garnered local and then national attention. Alex raised the bar when in 2004 she stated publicly her goal to raise $1-million.
"I was reading an article in our local newspaper about this little girl and how courageous she was about helping others as she was going through chemo, and they were still trying to get their first million. It was a couple of years in and they were about a hundred thousand short," Zacney recalled.
Zacney made multiple anonymous contributions to help Alex reach her goal of $1-million in donations. Liz Scott said that after the publicity surrounding Alex’s seven-figure goal, the organization started getting substantial anonymous checks from one company.
Nobody knew where they were coming from, but naturally there was curiosity. Some of the people working for Alex’s Lemonade Stand did some research and came up with some clues, but they would not discover the anonymous donor was actually the owner of a racehorse until later that year when they were contacted directly by Zacney.
"The timing of Afleet Alex was really critical for us," Liz Scott said. "My daughter started the lemonade stand in the year 2000, and by 2004 she had a stand in the front yard and had really become a national story. And in 2004, which was around the time the Afleet Alex camp started supporting us, she put out through an interview that she wanted to raise a million dollars, and this was really her last stand.
"She wasn’t doing well and there was really a lot of response to her story and to that goal. People throughout the country started having lemonade stands, signing up to do lemonade stands and sending in money to help her reach the million dollars."
Alex Scott died in August 2004. That year Alex’s Lemonade Stand raised approximately $1.5-million.
"She was a very determined girl. When she wanted to do something, she believed she could do it and she would give it her all to accomplish it," Liz Scott said.
In the fall of 2004, the Scotts were contacted by Zacney with an idea to help raise awareness for Alex’s Lemonade Stand. They were able to connect the dots to figure out the orgin of those anonymous checks when Zacney said he had made contributions to the charity anonymously, through a company, from the earnings of their racehorse, whose name also was Alex.
Zacney thought this talented colt, Afleet Alex, might be able to help boost the profile of Alex’s Lemonade Stand but first wanted to get the Scotts’ blessing.
"This was shortly after she died now, so they were donating anonymously up to that point," Liz Scott said. "[Zacney] sent an email saying we want to continue to support, but we think we can bring attention to it if we let it become more known, is it OK if we tell people.
"And, of course, we thought it was really cool. Never imagined the horse would run in the Kentucky Derby or win the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes. We just knew he was a pretty good horse and had been winning some prizes and then, we said, ‘Sure, of course.’ "
Afleet Alex was a Grade 1 winner with four wins and two seconds in six starts in 2004, and he was a finalist for the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. There were high aspirations for his 3-year-old season.
For Zacney and Afleet Alex’s connections, anything they could do to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand seemed like a home run.
"[Liz Scott] was looking for something at the time and she just thought it was a great idea," Zacney said. "If the horse did not continue on to be successful, it would have been a great idea, a good suggestion, but just so many things fell into place and happened because of the success of the horse and Alex’s Lemonade being connected and getting out there."
Afleet Alex won his 3-year-old debut in the Mountain Valley Stakes before a lung infection two weeks later led to a disappointing finish in the Rebel Stakes.
An eight-length runaway win in the Arkansas Derby showed Afleet Alex was back in top form and punched his ticket to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. It also presented a unique opportunity to promote Alex’s Lemonade Stand to a much larger audience.
"They thought it would be a great way to raise awareness to what we were doing," Liz Scott said. "We thought that was really cool and I think I jokingly said, ‘Well, let’s bring a lemonade stand [to Churchill].’ And [Zacney] said, ‘Yeah, let’s make that happen.’ "
Getting permission for the lemonade stand at Churchill Downs did not turn out to be as easy as it seemed. Scott said she didn’t think they had ever done anything like it before.
Alex’s Lemonade Stand got permission in the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby, and the impact turned out to be substantial.
"They were so great to us," she said. "They invited us both down for the Oaks and the Derby, and they gave us a behind-the-scenes tour and the gave us media passes so we could go where we needed to throughout and do what we needed to do.
"I took my two older sons down there and a bunch of my family came and we set up a stand. We raised a ton of money and the media around it was huge because this was our first year, you know, without Alex, and she had always been the face and the voice and what was so compelling about the story and what got people’s attention."
Liz Scott said the feature story on NBC’s main Kentucky Derby telecast provided a massive boost for the charity, and there were countless stories from media outlets across the country about the connection between Afleet Alex, who finished third in the race, and this grassroots charity that was founded by Alex Scott. The media attention remained strong from the Triple Crown trail right through the Belmont Stakes.
"What happened then was that we reached a whole new audience with the story of the foundation, and things just took off in so many ways," Liz Scott said. "We started getting more donations, more people doing lemonade stands, more companies that wanted to sponsor. A lot of the horse racing community really got behind the story, and a lot of our supporters today, if we ask them how the heard about us, many of them would say they heard about us through Afleet Alex."
The story got even better two weeks later when Afleet Alex overcame unimaginable adversity to win the Preakness Stakes. He clipped heels with Scrappy T at the top of the stretch but in an amazing display of athleticism, Afleet Alex regained his balance and streaked to victory under Jeremy Rose.
Just a short drive from Afleet Alex’s home base of Delaware Park, supporters of the colt and Alex’s Lemonade Stand came out in full force at Pimlico Race Course.
Three weeks later, Afleet Alex rolled to another dominant victory in the Belmont Stakes in front of a crowd firmly in support of both the horse and Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
Afleet Alex swept the final two jewels of racing’s Triple Crown carrying far more than the weight of a jockey and saddle across the finish line. For his trainer, Tim Ritchey, the victories in those races were the culmination of his racing dreams, but the connection to Alex’s Lemonade Stand was even more fulfilling.
To play a part in helping to raise millions of dollars to help something that affects life and death in children, it affects the whole family, that was really special for me.
Trainer Tim Ritchey
"That, to me, I’m actually more proud of that than I am of winning the Preakness or Belmont," Ritchey said. "To play a part in helping to raise millions of dollars to help something that affects life and death in children, it affects the whole family, that was really special for me.
"Obviously, he won the Eclipse [Award] for 3-year-old [male], and we won the Special Eclipse for Alex’s Lemonade Standand our association with them. I’ve got two of them sitting on my mantelpiece, and the one for the lemonade stand is about a quarter of an inch â I took a little piece of wood and put it underneath â it’s just a little higher than the other one. That kind of tells you what I thought of that situation."
Fifteen years after the first lemonade stand and approaching the 10-year anniversary of Afleet Alex’s remarkable run through the Triple Crown, Alex’s Lemonade Stand is thriving.
Since 2005, Alex’s Lemonade Stand has raised more than $100-million to fund 475 childhood cancer research projects at 102 top hospitals and institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
"I still talk to Liz and Jay, and Afleet Alex helped so much to get them where they are today," Zacney said.
Pimlico was the host of Afleet Alex’s iconic classic victory, and there have been preliminary discussions about hosting a lemonade stand at the 2015 Preakness Stakes. Both the Maryland Jockey Club and Alex’s Lemonade Stand expressed enthusiasm about the possibility.
"The year of Afleet Alex in 2005, we raised $4-million, so it was a huge bump to what we were doing and it was a huge opportunity for us in the first year without Alex to let people know that this was continuing and that there was still work to be done even though Alex wasn’t with us anymore," Liz Scott said. "To me, that was a critical part of our ability to grow to where we are today, because it was such a big year for us in terms of gaining that name recognition.
"We just passed the $100-million raised in the past 10 years, total. It was huge. It’s kind of mind-boggling, really."