Gold Cup Eve, while most fans are busy handicapping the big race, I
found myself in a slightly more nostalgic mood, and the Hollywood Gold Cup is an easy race for which to wax poetic. Seabiscuit and
Citation, Swaps and Round Table, Native Diver and Ack Ack, Ferdinand
and Cigar, Skip Away and Lava Man, it is not called the Race of
Champions for nothing. As unbelievable as the honor role of champions
for the race is, there was one edition of the Hollywood Gold Cup that
was especially memorable for me. The year was 1979, and a
four-year-old Affirmed was saddled with his heftiest impost of his
career. Despite the 132 pounds, including rider Laffit Pincay, Jr.,
he was assigned to carry, the five-time champion and soon to be
two-time Horse of the Year was made a heavy favorite against a solid
field of Californian handicap horses. The race would turn out to be
anything but easy though.
to his winning ways, and running at arguably his favorite racetrack,
Affirmed was sent off at 3-10 against nine others with designs on
defeating a champion. Breaking from the rail, the chestnut superstar
would never be able to find his way off the rail the entire 1 ¼ mile
trip. His main challenger that day would be a horse by the name of Sirlad,
who had the speed to pressure him early, and in receipt of 12 pounds,
was able to pressure the Harbor View Farm every step of the way. As
the leaders rattled off testing fractions, including six in 1:09 and
3/5, it looked like the last Triple Crown winner might be in trouble.
After all, how many horses want to be pinned on the rail in blazing
fractions, and carry 132 pounds to boot.
course, Affirmed was the opposite of an ordinary horse. Early in the
stretch, Sirlad was still there, and Text had ranged right up to the
two on the outside. It was gut-check time. In the end, and to no
surprise, Affirmed gradually pulled clear to win the decision by a
hard fought three-quarters of a length. The final time was 1:58 2/5,
which was only a fifth of a second off Noor’s world record for the
classic distance. Adding to the momentous occasion, with the win,
Affirmed became the first Thoroughbred to reach $2 million in
[Affirmed currently ranks #8 on the list of the All-Time Greatest Horses on HRN]
thoroughbred race horses, it was a most atypical performance, but for
him, it was typical Affirmed. Three races later, and three more wins
to his credit, Affirmed retired as one of our sport's greatest ever.
No horse since has been able to win the Triple Crown, and no horse
since has showed more heart than the son of Exclusive Native. Further
proof of his greatness is the statistic of his perfect nine-for-nine
record in races where the decision came down to less than a length at
the wire. The great Alydar knew this fact all too well. Affirmed
simply refused to lose when he saw the wire.
was never more true than his victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup. So
tomorrow when you are enjoying another great edition of Hollywood's
biggest race, please take a second to think back about a very special
former winner … Watch and Enjoy!