Saratoga Memories: Alydar in the Whitney Handicap

August 02, 2016 10:35am
Alydar - Affirmed 615 X 400
Photo: Bob Coglianese

Whitney 2016 is Saturday, August 6th!

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Whitney 2016

I’m starting to get excited. This won’t be my first trip to Saratoga; far from it, but the more I go, the more I appreciate all that is the mecca of American horse racing. From my first days attending more than 40 years ago, I’ve loved Saratoga. Summertime, great racing, and a sanctuary for fans or horse racing all wrapped neatly into one destination, there is nothing quite like the Spa. This year, I am happy to say that the plans have already been made for my family and I to spend a full week at Saratoga. Highlighting the visit, will be the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on Saturday August 6.

My favorite horse in training, Frosted, is scheduled to make his next start in the $1.25 million race, which is all the more reason to be in full ‘counting the minutes until Saratoga’ mode. While I am obviously hoping to see something strong by Frosted in this year’s Whitney, I cannot expect it to rival the spectacular performance by Alydar in the same race at Saratoga on August 5, 1978. 38 years may have passed since, but it was one of those races that I will never forget.


After looking near unbeatable in the Kentucky Derby preps on this side of the Mississippi in the winter and spring of that year, we all know about the five-week odyssey which Alydar embarked on in the Triple Crown. Alydar ran big in each leg of the series, but as happened more often than not in their great rivalry, it was never quite enough to get by the amazingly brave Affirmed. The Harbor View star would hold off Alydar once, twice, and three times, as the nation watched glued to their television sets.

To this day, the Belmont Stakes of 1978 (pictured above) remains the most exciting race I’ve ever seen. It would have been easy to imagine that a layoff or letdown would be in Alydar’s future after this classic trio of races, but six weeks after the Belmont he was in Chicago for the Arlington Classic. The powerful son of Raise a Native destroyed his competition to the tune of a 13-length runaway, sending him headlong to Saratoga for another meeting with Affirmed. Before the Travers, though, trainer John Veitch opted to take on older horses in the Whitney.


In the Whitney, Alydar was made a heavy favorite despite the presence of a serious bunch of older males topped by J.O. Tobin. The English import had been the first horse ever to defeat Seattle Slew, the summer before, and was coming off a sharp win in the Tom Fool Handicap. Besides the two favorites there were seven others in the Whitney, and each was a legitimate stakes performer. Even with the sizable weight allowance given to three-year-olds running against older in the summer, Alydar was asked to carry more weight than everyone other than J.O. Tobin.


More than 30,000 were in attendance for the opening Saturday at the Spa to see the Calumet color bearer take on older horses for the first time. Alydar would not disappoint his fans at Saratoga. Well off a brisk early pace set by Buckaroo and Nearly On Time, Alydar was reserved back in seventh place early, nearly ten lengths behind. No worries for regular rider Jorge Velasquez though, as the pair begin to pick off horses one by one from the inside. By the time the second choice, J.O. Tobin had ranged up to leader, Buckaroo, on his outside, Alydar was in full flight down on the rail.


In one of the most electrifying moves I have ever seen on the far turn and into the stretch, Alydar blitzed to the lead inside the leading pair. As the nine horse field straightened for the Saratoga homestretch, the outcome was no longer in doubt. It was only a matter by how much in which the fantastic three-year-old would win. Lengthening his advantage every stride to the wire, Alydar won the 1978 Whitney Handicap by ten lengths in the outstanding time of 1:47 2/5 for the nine furlongs.


Nearly four decades removed from the special performance, I realize that Alydar is today remembered for reasons less than triumphant … his defeats at the hands of Affirmed, and far worse, as the victim of a heinous and tragic death. He should be remembered for both of those things, as well as his outstanding progeny, but more than anything, I choose to remember Alydar for afternoons such as this one at Saratoga. He was truly something to savor. To watch a replay of the 1978 Whitney, please click here.


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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, American Pharoah and Justify. 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. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter 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 hosting 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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