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The Kentucky Derby Post

Clearly Affirmed, 1978 Has Since Been Unmatched

Affirmed 615 X 400
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 career.


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)


  1. Spectacular Bid
  2. Point Given
  3. Sunday Silence
  4. Holy Bull
  5. Easy Goer
  6. Rachel Alexandra
  7. Curlin


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.   


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Older Comments about Clearly Affirmed, 1978 Has Since Been Unmatched...

mixed two ideas: paces were very quick in the Noor/Citation series and several track and world records were established.
In one of the Noor/Citation races, several track and new world records were set.
People forget the Noor/Citation series that was just as close and competitive
Sunday SIlence/ Easy Goer came close
That Belmont of 1978 in which Affirmed match raced Alydar down the stretch had to be the duel of the century! Affirmed had the heart of a giant!
CauseForConcern - definitely considered him because he was a very fine horse and BC Champ to remember. I guess i'm just biased towards the 3-yr-olds that enter the major derby preps / TC races
After watching those two races, you wonder how he ever lost.
Nice list, Bryan. One horse that seems to slip under the radar(because he didn't participate in the TC), but maybe consider? Would be Tiznow. He won the BC Classic @ 3YO, and became the only horse to win two BC Classics the next year.
Good list, Bryan ... For me, it's Bid and then Sunday Silence, since our last TC winner.

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About Me

Meet Bryan Brinkmeyer – Chicago, IL


Growing up across the river from the Bluegrass State I was able to spend a lot of summer days at Ellis Park, Henderson, KY. 


In the spring of 2000, I made my inaugural Kentucky Derby appearance and the tradition continues because there is no other city in the racing world like Louisville, KY on Derby Day. 


Although the story of a Kentucky Derby winner is legendary, a champions trail is what The Kentucky Derby Post is all about. The coverage begins when Juvenile season starts and continues until the field is set, the picks are in and the roses are awarded. 



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Racing's 12th Triple Crown Winner

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