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HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

Affirmed & Alydar: A Triple Crown and Belmont Stakes to Remember

Affirmed & Alydar DRF
Photo: Brian Zipse

 

One of the greatest races ever run was contested on the biggest of possible stages.


The one-and-a-half miles of the Belmont Stakes is often a test that separates the heart of a true champion from that of a wannabe. In the case of Affirmed and Alydar, it would prove without a shadow of a doubt that they were both fantastic champions. Unfortunately for Alydar, it would also point out that one had something deep down inside that the other could not match.


Unlike the lightly raced juveniles of today, Affirmed and Alydar had already proven themselves as stars the year before. Affirmed had been named champion two-year-old of 1977, but only after he had earned a hard fought, and narrow victory over the favored Alydar in his final race of the season in the Laurel Futurity. All told the two youngsters had already won ten stakes in their first year of racing, including six in which they faced each other, with Affirmed winning four. It was no wonder that they wintered as the two big favorites for the following spring’s Triple Crown.


In taking separate roads to the roses, Affirmed and Alydar only reinforced their lofty reputations. On the West Coast, the Laz Barrera trained Affirmed was much the best in four facile scores. Beginning with a victory in an allowance sprint, Affirmed was never let go any higher than 3-10 as he marched through the Southern California Derby prep schedule, adding wins in the San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby, and Hollywood Derby to the son of Exclusive Native's impressive record.


Meanwhile back east, the chestnut son of Raise a Native was dominating his competition in Florida. Easy wins in an allowance, the Flamingo, and the Florida Derby had backers of Alydar feeling confident. The question of which great colt would be favored in the Kentucky Derby was put to rest when Alydar announced his arrival in the state with a 13-length romp in the Blue Grass.


The stage was set for an epic showdown and renewal of rivalry at Churchill Downs. It was not as close as expected. Both horses ran well, but Affirmed, the lighter colored of the two chestnuts, took over the race with a powerful move on the turn, and Alydar did not do his best running until too late. At the wire, Affirmed, at 9-5, had beaten John Veitch’s hard charging 6-5 charge by more than a length. In the Preakness, it was closer, but more of the same. Alydar made his move earlier, but Affirmed was so strong for the stretch drive, that his rival’s furious rally would fall a neck short. As the two colts moved on to New York, there would be much on the line. Affirmed would hope to become only the 11th horse to win the Triple Crown, and the third champion in six years to complete the feat.


Alydar supporters still had hope though. Belmont was his home track and where he had beaten Affirmed the fall before, when he had run right by him in the stretch of the Champagne. Veitch also had taken the blinkers off Alydar so that his colt could clearly see where his rival was at all stages, and it was widely believed that if Alydar was ever going to catch his Harbor View Farm rival again, twelve furlongs would be the distance. Fans at Belmont that day expected a show, and their expectations were wildly exceeded.


Only five horses entered the Belmont, but everyone was there to watch only two anyway. Affirmed was backed at 3-5 to become a Triple Crown winner, while Alydar was well supported at 11-10 to turn the tables. 

 


 

There was palpable electricity in the air as the horses were set on their way, once around Belmont’s massive oval. Affirmed went right to the lead, and was able to set a slow pace with no real speed to challenge him early. That was all the prompting Jorge Velasquez needed to send the Calumet Farm challenger after him. By the time the two had hit the six furlong marker, they were adjoined. From there, everyone was treated to a historic battle that matched two all-time greats at the heights of their athletic prowess.


Neither superstar would give an inch. Furlong after thrilling furlong, Affirmed held a slight advantage from the inside, with Alydar snorting his hot breath down the favorite’s neck. As the pair spun out of the turn, the crowd went crazy. Both horses were giving it everything they had. Every time it appeared that Alydar might wear down his opposition and deny the Triple Crown, Affirmed found more, somewhere deep inside. Only yards away from the wire did it finally become clear that Affirmed was going to get there first. With a triumphant raise of the whip, Steve Cauthen, the best teenage rider America has ever seen, signified what they had just accomplished. It was an incredible way to win the Triple Crown.


It has been 36 years, and we have not seen a Triple Crown winner since. California Chrome might just be the horse to break the historic drought. While he does not have a great rival in which to tangle, like Affirmed had Alydar, the outpouring of emotion will be much the same as it was back in 1978, should he complete the sweep.


As for Affirmed and Alydar, they would only race one more time, in a rather unsatisfactory result of a disqualification in the Travers. Affirmed would retire with three consecutive championships. Alydar can easily be called the greatest horse never to be named champion … thanks to Affirmed. And thanks to both of them, the world was treated to the greatest race that many of us will ever see.

 

 

 

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Older Comments about Affirmed & Alydar: A Triple Crown and Belmont Stakes to Remember...

those were the days..........the other day, I found the Belmont Racing form from 1989, Sunday Silence/Easy Goer (another great rivalry) the funny thing, SS won the San Felipe/Santa Anita Derby/Kentucky Derby and Preakness, just like CC,(double initials too)and we all know what happened, SS could NOT lose The Belmont, yet he did, and If my memory serves me right, finished 15 legnths behind EG, Sorry but I feel the same fate awaits CC
  • animalkingdom137 · I kike Samraat there for the reason that he knows that track pretty well. If CC flops then he'll go down in another sort of history and we fans of racing will have to wait until next year! If CC wins the DAPartners will be celebs for the rest of their lives. I wish them and the horse well! · 83 days ago
  • animalkingdom137 · like not kike...ooops in too big a hurry......need auto correct..... · 83 days ago
The following is in no way a judgement that the last 3 T.C. Winners were not worthy . As a matter of fact,they were of the greatest horses i have ever seen. All 3 definately in the top 10,and 2 of them in the top 3 . That being said, watch the replay above as well as the races of Slew and Big Red . What is the common denominator and compare it to the modern Era . Here is a hint,in last years rendition we had a field of 12 i believe. Look at the replays,Red faced 4 foes,Affirmed faced 4 foes and Slew faced 6 foes. Smaller fields make the trip easier,traffic or extremely wide trips are not exixtant. Jocks can just do whatever they want without having to many worries . I am sure that Art Sherman and company would of loved to be meeting only 4 foes come June 7th.
Ekindy the only thing i can say about Alydar ,is that he was a great horse . The only regret i have is that The Travers ws his last race . This was a horse i would of loved to have seen run as a 4 yo . Not to take anything away from John Veitch , but i sure as hell would of loved to have seen the results if you only switched the Trainers on these 2 . The great Lazzaro was no nonsense,he went for it with aggressive tactics(See Bold Forbes). I always thought that Alydar was the more physically gifted of the 2 .
Maybe the issue with the pauity of Triple Crown winners since Affrimed lies in the lack of 2 yo experience that predominates three year old campaigns now.
Here's a question to throw out there: If Alydar had won the Belmont, would he have been remembered more or less than he is now?
I remember all three sets of races for the crown in the '70's. For sheer tension, excitement, etc that third race from the third set of 3 can't be beaten. I don't think I took a breath from about the middle of the back stretch 'til they had crossed the finish line. It was so much fun to watch - it really fit the definition of a horse race.
have to get a shot up from the 1973 Belmont later
no one knows what makes a seconditis horse do what they do, but it is a well established pattern.
Yes, straight from the Zipse vault.
Brian, is that your copy of the original PPs?
I was such a big Affirmed fan and just as much a Steve Cauthen fan! I have a feeling that this year's Belmont is going to be a very close finish.

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing since birth. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 
  
As Managing Editor of Horse Racing Nation, Brian authors a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and adds his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Brian also serves on the the Board of Directors of ReRun Thoroughbred Adoption and is a Vox Populi committee member. 
  
A graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives in Suburban Chicago with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra, where he is a professional golf instructor when he is not following the horses.