Maybe there is no secret to becoming a Triple Crown winner.
Maybe all that’s required is simply being that good. Since 1978, a total of
twelve horses have arrived at the Belmont Stakes with the hope of winning one
more and earning the chance to stand next to Affirmed in the halls of the
racing immortals. The failure or
misfortune of those attempts is what brings us to the current state of the
Triple Crown and the record breaking drought that began after one of the most
memorable stretch duels in racing history.
Over these long and grueling 35 years there have been many
theories as to why we haven’t seen another Triple Crown winner. Along with that
there has been even more analysis of what it will take to be the next. Not to
dismiss any of them for some are valid and intriguing but maybe sometimes we’re
making it too complicated. Perhaps there answer is rather simple; Affirmed was
one of the greatest and since he dazzled us in 1978 we have yet to see a horse
match his brilliance.
So how good was Affirmed? Let’s begin with the stats. 29:
22-5-1. Brilliant, in only 1 of 29 career races did Affirmed miss finishing in
the top 3. To top it off, his record in Grade 1 Stakes races is just as impressive
or perhaps even more; 18: 14-3-0.
Sometimes a career in sports can be looked at in a couple of
different ways. However, some of the most regarded are the ones that not only
begin with a bang but also end with as much luster as it once displayed.
Affirmed is an example of one of those careers.
Following the Belmont Stakes Affirmed scored again in the following race, the G2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. However, his winning ways soon subsided when he and Alydar went head to head one last time in the 1978 G1 Travers Stakes. In a move that proved too risky Laffit Pincay cut off Alydar through the final turn and was moved back to 2nd place by the stewards. The ruling put Alydar in first and landed Affirmed in a position that he had yet to see so far in his 3-yr-old season; anywhere but 1st.
What followed next was more of the same and on one occasion something very rare, a 5th place finish and first time at missing the top 3. And so, as the magical 1978 season came to a close and the 1979 season began Affirmed was in the midst of a five race losing streak. If anyone at that time was beginning to doubt if the son of Exclusive Native would ever return to prominence, Affirmed heard them loud and clear. The question was answered in resounding fashion as he emerged stronger than ever and began his unforgettable ride off into the sunset.
It was the G1 Charles H. Strub Stakes at Santa Anita where
Affirmed found his groove and ignited a winning streak that included 7 wins, 6
Grade 1 victories and the honor of repeating as American Horse of the Year. It
was very fitting that his final appearance would be at the track in which he
enjoyed the most success and will always be remembered the most. Belmont Park, the place where big things happen. It was here that he concluded his early rise to the top and later ended his legendary racing career with a win in
the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. What a storybook ending to his hall of fame
The final proof that Affirmed is one of the greatest is his
record against the horse that many consider the greatest Triple Crown horse to
never win a jewel. Alydar was more than just a runner up, he was an
intimidating force that could only be beat with pure skill and determination.
In the Juvenile season Alydar got the best of Affirmed in 2 of their 6
meetings, the Great American Stakes and the G1 Champagne.
From there Alydar moved south to Affirmed’s home state of Florida and dominated
his way to the 1978 Kentucky Derby. The road to the first Saturday in May included an allowance victory
followed by three consecutive Grade 1 wins; the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby
and Blue Grass Stakes.
Now that is a horse that anyone would fear. But only if
you’re name is not Affirmed. The epic rivalry will long be remembered for its
spine tingling moments and rushes of adrenaline all the way down to the wire.
The magic that it contained was masterful but so is the one who everybody is
still chasing to this day. In this piece I won’t go as far to compare Affirmed
to the other Triple Crown winners before him, but based on who he had to beat
to become one of them I can say that it was an irrefutable and extremely
difficult achievement all by itself.
To back that up, let's not forget that this riddle was tried on two occasions since 1978. However, the third time was a charm for
the narrowly defeated runner ups and a bid at the next Triple Crown was denied.
The first was 1989 when Easy Goer finally got the best of Sunday Silence and again
in 1998 when Victory Gallop’s nose was enough to keep Real Quiet from entering
the winners’ circle for the third consecutive time.
So then what was so different about Affirmed that allowed
him to overcome the same challenger three times in a row and become a Triple
Crown winner? Yes, I am aware of all that goes into horse racing and the
development of champion. From breeding to training, onto distance, the right
surfaces, the size of the field, racing too much vs. too little and almost
everything in between including a little luck. All of these elements of
producing the next Triple Crown winner are important to talk about but my
question remains: Has there been a 3-yr-old as good as Affirmed since 1978?
My top seven 3-yr-olds since Affirmed (Only 3-yr-olds are
being ranked - results after age 3 are not considered)
- Spectacular Bid
- Point Given
- Sunday Silence
- Holy Bull
- Easy Goer
- Rachel Alexandra
Next in no particular order: Silver Charm, Smarty Jones, I’ll Have Another, Bernardini. Let the debate begin……….
In the meantime, the timing of this look back on the
dazzling career of Affirmed is because this weekend he is also being honored
at the annual Florida Stallion Affirmed Stakes at Calder Casino and Race Course. The 7 Furlong
Juvenile stakes is restricted as a part of the Florida Stallion Stakes, a
series of races for 2-yr-old colts and fillies sired by a nominated
Florida stallion. However, there are no requirements for the mare to foal in
Florida or for the foal to be a Florida bred.
Although Affirmed never raced in the state of Florida, it is
where the champion was bred with Harbor View Farm in Marion County. It's a great location for the race in his honor and we wish good luck
to all of the juveniles in this year’s addition. Here’s to a true champion that the race was named after and the one that every body will be chasing until we see our next Triple Crown winner.