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Zipse At The Track

Affirmed and the Hollywood Gold Cup

On 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.

Back 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.

Of 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 earnings.

[Affirmed currently ranks #8 on the list of the All-Time Greatest Horses on HRN]

For 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.

This 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!


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Older Comments about Affirmed and the Hollywood Gold Cup...

I've always been a huge fan of the Gold Cup...many many awesome horses have ran/won it.
Loved Affirmed especially with Steve Cauthen up.
one of my favs of all dad took me to HP to see that race...that rivalry was what got me to be a fan of horseracing...and my other as a kid was Vigors.
Great post Brian, I always admire the tenacity and determination Affirmed showed in his toughest races, what a fighter!
Thanks Lesley, that 1978 Belmont with Affirmed and Alydar was the single greatest race I have ever seen. Alydar deserved a win, but Affirmed would not let that happen.
Thanks for the great story. I hadn't known that about Affirmed. 132 pounds he carried! I will never forget his Belmont against Alydar. It's one of the all-time great races. Ever!

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. 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. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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