The unforgettable rivalry between 1978 Triple
Crown winner Affirmed and archrival Alydar came alive again at Belmont Park on
Saturday afternoon as hundreds of fans lined up for a special autograph session
with Hall of Fame jockeys Steve Cauthen and Jorge Velasquez.
With paid admission, fans received a postcard of the photo finish of
the 1978 Belmont Stakes, which they could get signed by Cauthen and Velasquez
for a $5 donation, with the proceeds going to the Permanently Disabled
The autograph session came exactly two weeks before I’ll Have
Another attempts to add the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 9 to his
victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and become the 12th
horse to sweep the series.
Cauthen was just 18 years old when he piloted Affirmed to become the 11th
and most recent Triple Crown winner, dogged every step of the way by his
indefatigable opponent, Alydar. Known as “The Kid” during his
riding days, Cauthen had come to New
York as an apprentice during the winter in early 1977,
and during one stretch booted home six winners in one day, 23 in six days, and 110
in 46 days. He first rode Affirmed as a 2-year-old at Saratoga Race Course,
winning the Grade 2 Sanford on August 17, 1977.
“I had worked Affirmed at the Oklahoma
training track before the race, and he didn’t really impress me in his
work – he was quite lazy,” said Cauthen, 52, who currently operates
a breeding farm in Kentucky.
“In the Sanford,
he kind of hung on the turn. He won easily enough, and I thought he was a nice
little horse. It wasn’t really until his next race, the [Grade 1 Hopeful]
when he ran against Alydar that I realized that he was special, a really good
Velasquez was one of the top riders in New York when he got the mount
on Alydar in the fall of 1977 for Belmont Park’s Grade 1 Champagne Stakes,
in which he defeated Affirmed by 1 ½ lengths. Although Affirmed was voted the
champion 2-year-old, Alydar was favored to win the Derby after posting
victories in the Grade 1 Flamingo, Grade 1 Florida Derby and Grade 1 Blue
Grass, only to lose by 1 ½ lengths at Churchill Downs. The margin narrowed to a
neck in the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes was decided by a head after a thrilling
mile-long duel to the wire.
“The Belmont was so exciting,”
said Velasquez, currently a jockey agent in New York. “They went at it from the
mile pole. At the 3/16th pole I thought, ‘I have him now,
I’m going to beat him this time.’ I saw Stevie was riding
left-handed, so his horse came back and he beat me. It was great for racing,
just too bad I had to lose!”
Affirmed and Alydar wound up facing each other 10 times, with the final
score Affirmed 7, Alydar 3.
Both jockeys are picking I’ll Have Another to win the 1 ½-mile Belmont and end the
34-year-long Triple Crown drought.
“He’s relaxed, he’s a fighter, and he’s got
that desire to win,” said Cauthen of I’ll Have Another.
“There’s no reason he won’t get 1 ½ miles as well as anybody
else in the race, especially because of his relaxed nature.”
“He’s already proved how good he is,” added
Velasquez. “Now, the question is the distance. If he can carry his speed,
which I think he will, he should win the race.”
Photo: NYRA, Adam Coglianese