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L E’s Stories – “The Triple Crown Rivalry Unlike Any Other” – Our Salute To Affirmed Vs Alydar

The year 1978 produced many great moments at Madison Square Garden, The Sports Place at 302 E. 6th St. in downtown Austin….as many outstanding sporting events created famous heroes…..from Jack Nicklaus winning the British Open…..to the Washington Bullets defeating the Seattle Sonics 4 – 3 to win the NBA Title…..to “love birds” Jimmy Connors and Chrissie Evert winning their respective US Open championships…..to the Dallas Cowboys winning Super Bowl XII over the Denver Broncos…..to Pete Rose recording his 3000 hit, while having a NL record tying 44 consecutive game hit streak….to Muhammad Ali regaining his Heavyweight Title for the 3rd time with a win over Leon Spinks….to Notre Dame winning the NCAAF National Championship in the Cotton Bowl over the Texas Longhorns….and many more….but nothing that was accomplished on the fields of competition could match the excitement that was shared all over the USA, when 18 year old jockey Steve Cathen rode his stallion Affirmed in three classic confrontations with rival Alydar to win the Triple Crown of horse racing…..a crown that the great horse held for 37 years.  These three races were so close that not only did the great Affirmed and the youngest jockey to ever win the Triple Crown battle the gallant Alydar (with Jockey Laffit Pincay) to neck-and-neck victories….but all three became national sensations by the time the 3rd leg of the Triple Crown….the Belmont Stakes was completed.  The fact remains that Affirmed deserves “his place in the sun” and this story here at ImaSportsphile.                                                                                                                                                   

Horse Racing – 1978 – Triple Crown Highlights Special – Affirmed: The Triple Crown Winner

Affirmed (February 21, 1975 – January 12, 2001) was an American Thoroughbred racehorse….who was the 11th winner of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing…..along with his famous rivalry with Alydar….whom he met ten times…..which included all three Triple Crown races…..for Affirmed was the last horse to win the Triple Crown for a 37-year period….which was ended in 2015 by American Pharoah.  Affirmed won fourteen Grade I stakes races over his career….and was a champion each of the three years he raced.  At age two in 1977, he was named the champion two-year-old after winning the Hollywood Juvenile Championship….the Sanford….the Hopeful….the Belmont Futurity….and the Laurel Futurity.  At age three, he was named ‘Horse of the Year’ for winning the Triple Crown….along with other major stakes races such as the Santa Anita Derby…..the Hollywood Derby….and the Jim Dandy Stakes….. then he repeated as ‘Horse of the Year’ at age four….after winning the final seven races in his career….with all but one of which was a Grade I stakes race.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980…..and on the Blood-Horse magazine list of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century, he was ranked 12th.               

Horse Racing – 1977 To 1979 – Special Film – The Life and Times Of Affirmed – 11th Triple Crown Winner

Affirmed was a chestnut horse bred in Marion County, Florida by Louis Wolfson’s Harbor View Farm. The derivation of the name “Affirmed” has been the subject of speculation, in part because the conviction of Wolfson, for securities law violations, had been affirmed on appeal in 1969….which resulted in his imprisonment.  Affirmed was sired by the Harbor View stallion Exclusive Native, a high-class racehorse and breeding stallion, whose other progeny included the Kentucky Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk.                        

Horse Racing – 1978 – Kentucky Derby – Featuring Winner Affirmed – With Jim McKay + Howard Cosell

As a two-year-old, Affirmed won seven of his nine starts, with two placings, for earnings of $343,477 under regular rider Steve Cauthen, then a teenager.  Notably, six of those starts were against his rival, Calumet Farm’s Alydar, with Affirmed winning four and Alydar winning two.  Affirmed won his first start in a maiden special weight race at Belmont Park on May 24, 1977.   He followed up with a win in the Youthful Stakes on June 15 where he defeated Alydar by eight lengths.  On July 6 in the Great American Stakes, Alydar evened the score with a ​3 12 length win after mounting a powerful stretch drive.  Affirmed was then shipped across country to Hollywood Park….where he won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes on July 23….. then he was shipped back to New York….where he won the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga on August 17 by ​2 12 lengths over the previously undefeated Tilt Up.  In his next start on August 27 in the Hopeful Stakes, his main rival was Alydar….who was the even money favorite after winning four straight races…..as Affirmed stalked the early pace set by Tilt Up with Alydar in close contention…..then around the far turn, Affirmed moved to the lead with Alydar closing ground on the outside…..when in the mid-stretch, Alydar had closed to within a head but Affirmed pulled away in the final sixteenth of a mile to win by half a length…..as his time of 1:15​25 for ​6 12 furlongs was a new stakes record.                                                                                                                                                                                

Horse Racing – 1977 To 1979 – ESPN Special – “The Head-To-Head Rivalry Of Affirmed Vs Alydar” – Part 1

The two horses again faced off in the Belmont Futurity on September 10, with Affirmed going off as the narrow favorite. After a good start, Affirmed settled into second place behind longshot Rough Sea…. while Alydar overcame a bad start to move into 3rd place down the backstretch. Rounding into the stretch, Affirmed moved to the lead….as Alydar responded and the two horses dueled head-to-head for the final furlong. Alydar appeared to be in the lead for much of the stretch drive before Affirmed rallied in the final stride to win by a nose. “He never gave up”, said Cauthen, “even when he was headed.”  Alydar turned the tables in the Champagne Stakes on October 15th….while  sweeping by Affirmed in the stretch to win by ​1 14 lengths….then the two faced off again in the Laurel Futurity on October 29th….which was  one of the most prestigious races for two-year-olds in the country….with Affirmed winning by a neck…..and with his 4-2 margin in the series against Alydar, Affirmed was named the 1977 American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt.                                                                                                                                           

Horse Racing – 1977 To 1979 –  ESPN Special – “The Head-To-Head Rivalry Of Affirmed Vs Alydar” – Part 2

Affirmed started his three-year-old campaign on the West Coast with an allowance race win in March…. which were followed by victories in the San Felipe Stakes…..the Santa Anita Derby…..and the Hollywood Derby…..and meanwhile, Alydar was preparing for the Kentucky Derby with wins in the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes.  Alydar was made the 6-5 favorite for Kentucky Derby….with Affirmed the 2nd choice at 9-5….and undefeated Sensitive Prince the 3rd choice at 9–2.  At the start of the Kentucky Derby, Sensitive Prince took the early lead….as Affirmed ran in 3rd through the early stages…. while Alydar stayed far back…..then Affirmed made a strong move for the lead on the far turn….while putting away a challenge by Wood Memorial winner Believe It….and held off Alydar’s fast-closing charge to win by ​1 12 lengths…..as Affirmed now had a 5–2 edge in the series.                                                                          

Horse Racing – 1977 To 1979 – ESPN Special – “The Head-To-Head Rivalry Of Affirmed Vs Alydar” – Part 3

In the Preakness Stakes, Affirmed set the pace….when Alydar made his big move on the far turn….which was at the same point in the race where Affirmed made his winning move in the Derby.  Affirmed held a short lead entering the stretch….and held it to defeat Alydar by a neck.  Alydar’s partisans assumed that the ​1 12 mile distance of the Belmont, two furlongs longer than the Derby and 5/16 of a mile longer than the Preakness Stakes, would favor Alydar with his finishing style and staying pedigree…. and he would deny Affirmed the Triple Crown…..so, Trainer Veitch removed Alydar’s blinkers for the Belmont, saying that if Alydar got a better look at Affirmed, maybe he would get by him.  In the Belmont, Affirmed led and set a very slow pace….while going the first quarter mile in 25 seconds…..and the half in 50 seconds. Alydar’s jockey, Jorge Velásquez, put Alydar close to the pace…..and moved alongside Affirmed with more than seven furlongs to go.  For more than six furlongs (half the distance of the race), the colts raced neck and neck, pulling away from the rest of the field.  Alydar got his nose in front at mid-stretch….but just as Affirmed appeared to tire, Cauthen went to a left-handed whip….which was something he had never done before in his eight rides on Affirmed…..to which the great horse responded and won by a nose to become racing’s 11th Triple Crown winner.  After the 3rd slowest start in Belmont Stakes history, they raced the fastest last mile in Belmont Stakes history, ​34 in 1:14, the mile in 1:37 ​25 and finished in 2:26 ​45. It was, at the time, the 3rd fastest Belmont ever, behind Secretariat and Gallant Man.                                               

Horse Racing – 1977 To 1979 – ESPN Special – “The Head-To-Head Rivalry Of Affirmed Vs Alydar” – Part 4

His Triple Crown win set two records…..with one as the shortest and longest gaps between the previous and next Triple Crown winners…..but also, Affirmed’s win in 1978 was the first time the Triple Crown had been won in consecutive years after Seattle Slew had won it in 1977…..as Affirmed’s win also marked the start of the longest gap until the next Triple Crown winner….with American Pharoah’s win on June 6, 2015 occurring 37 years later.  Affirmed returned to racing in early August in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. ….where he nearly became an upset loser to the front-running Sensitive Prince…..but closed in the last 100 yards in a race that Laz Barrera considered one of Affirmed’s finest efforts.  Alydar and Affirmed met once more, in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Affirmed, piloted by Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay  substituting for the injured Cauthen….when he cut off Alydar entering the far turn….thus causing his rival to hit the rail and almost go down….while losing six lengths before recovering his stride.  Affirmed finished 1st but was disqualified and placed 2nd…..when the horses never met again….. and the final winning tally stood at Affirmed 7, Alydar 3.                                                                                                                      

Horse Racing – 1978 – The Preakness Stakes – Featuring Affirmed Vs Alydar (8th Meeting)

Affirmed then prepared to meet another major rival, 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew…..as the 1978 Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap marked the first time in racing history that two Triple Crown winners ever met in a race.  Seattle Slew was a speed horse and got the first quarter mile in 24 seconds under jockey Angel Cordero….who never allowed Affirmed to get close….as Seattle Slew won by three lengths in 1:45 ​45 for the one-turn mile and ​18.  The two horses met once more, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup…..and this time, Affirmed was to be aided by his stablemate Life’s Hope….who was entered in the race to extend Seattle Slew in the early stages…..however, Affirmed’s saddle slipped during the race, leaving his jockey with almost no control….when Affirmed tired only to finish unplaced for the only time in his career….as Exceller and jockey Willie Shoemaker defeated Seattle Slew by a nose.                                               

Horse Racing – 1978 – The Belmont Stakes – Featuring Affirmed Vs Alydar

As a three-year-old, Affirmed won 8 of 11 starts with 2 seconds and 1 unplaced run, for earnings of $901,541. He was named Horse of the Year despite the losses to Alydar, Seattle Slew, and Exceller, and was also named the American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse.  As a four-year-old in 1979, Affirmed started the season with a 3rd place in the Malibu Stakes….and a 2nd in the San Fernando Stakes. He had a five race losing sequence prior to starting in the Charles H. Strub Stakes at Santa Anita Park…..and that is when Trainer Laz Barrera replaced Cauthen with Pincay….and Affirmed didn’t lose again and would dominate the handicaps the rest of the year.  Affirmed won the Strub Stakes….and then ran in the Santa Anita Handicap against Exceller….who had defeated Seattle Slew and Affirmed in 1978…..as Affirmed won easily, running the ​1 14 miles in 1:58​35, under 128 pounds while setting a stakes record in California’s most important stakes race that stood until 2014.  Affirmed then went to Hollywood Park….where he won the Californian Stakes under 130 pounds giving runner-up Syncopate 16 pounds.  Next, while carrying top weight of 132 pounds, he won the Hollywood Gold Cup in a three horse finish, from Sirlad (120 pounds) and Text (119 pounds)….thus setting an all time earnings record and running the ​1 14 miles in a fast 1:58 ​25.  Affirmed picked up the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park….and then faced one more all-time great horse, three-year-old Spectacular Bid, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, also at Belmont…..as Spectacular Bid, like Alydar, preferred to run off the pace….and once again, Affirmed was allowed to set a slow pace, going the first half mile in 49 seconds….when Spectacular Bid issued challenges at Affirmed, but Affirmed won….as Spectacular Bid was undefeated during the rest of his racing career.                                                          

Horse Racing – 1979 – Jockey Club Gold Cup – Featuring Affirmed Vs Spectacular Bid

Affirmed was named Horse of the Year and the American Champion Older Male Horse of 1979….after having won 7 of 9 starts….with one 2nd and one 3rd as a four-year-old….while earning $1,148,800 for the year. In his career, Affirmed earned a then record $2,393,818….as the 1st Thoroughbred in North America to win over $2 million….with 22 wins, 5 seconds and 1 third from 29 starts.  His trainer, Laz Barrera, once said: “Affirmed is greater than Secretariat, or any Triple Crown winner, because only Affirmed had to face Alydar.”  Affirmed was syndicated at a then-record $14.4 million. At stud, Affirmed sired over 80 stakes winners, 9 champions with earnings in excess of $44,000,000 (through 2004)….which included Charlie Barley (USA), stakes winner in US….Flawlessly, North America’s grass course champion in 1992 and 1993 ….Peteski (CAN), won USA Molson Export Million Stakes and Canadian Triple Crown…..The Tin Man, won multiple Grade I races, including the Arlington Million…..and Trusted Partner (USA), won G1 IRE One Thousand Guineas.  Though Affirmed never raced on the turf (grass), he was a noted sire of turf runners, most notably multiple Grade I winners Flawlessly and The Tin Man.  As a broodmare sire, his daughters have notably produced Honey Ryder (G1W on turf) and Pleasantly Perfect (G1W on dirt & synthetic, notable wins include Breeders Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup).

 

Horse Racing – 1978 – Santa Anita Derby – Featuring Affirmed As Winner

In 2001, Affirmed was euthanized after falling seriously ill with laminitis….which is a circulatory hoof disease…..which was the same disease that also led to the death of fellow Triple Crown winner Secretariat and Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.  He was buried whole….which is the ultimate honor for a race horse…..at Jonabell Farm, wearing the flamingo pink colors of his original owners, Harbor View Farm.  A look at the chart below provides a snapshot view of the rivalry Affirmed had with Alydar…..which was as heavily and closely competed as any other rivalry known to the world of sports….and this chart provides plenty of evidence in that regard.  In their final meeting, Affirmed drifted in, forcing Alydar to be taken up on the backstretch. While Affirmed finished ahead of Alydar, the stewards decided to disqualify Affirmed from first to second, giving Alydar the final win.                                             

Horse Racing – 1977 – The Youthful Stakes – With Affirmed Vs Alydar (1st Meeting)

Horse Racing – 1977 – The Great American Stakes – With Affirmed Vs Alydar (2nd Meetingl)

Horse Racing – 1977 – The Hopeful Futurity – With Affirmed Vs Alydar (3rd Meeting)

 

Date

Track

Race

Distance

Affirmed finish

Alydar finish

Margin

6/15/1977

Belmont Park

Youthful Stakes

5 1/5 furlongs

1

5

5 lengths (to Alydar)

7/6/1977

Belmont Park

Great American Stakes

5 1/2

2

1

3 1/2

8/27/1977

Saratoga

Hopeful Stakes

6 1/2

1

2

1/2

9/10/1977

Belmont Park

Belmont Futurity

7

1

2

nose

10/15/1977

Belmont Park

Champagne Stakes

1 mile

2

1

1 1/4

10/29/1977

Laurel Park

Laurel Futurity

1 1/16 miles

1

2

neck

5/6/1978

Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby

1 1/4

1

2

1 1/2

5/20/1978

Pimlico

Preakness Stakes

1 3/16

1

2

neck

6/10/1978

Belmont Park

Belmont Stakes

1 1/2

1

2

head

8/19/1978

Saratoga

Travers Stakes

1 1/4

2*

1*

1 3/4*

Final: Affirmed 7, Alydar 3                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Horse Racing – 1977 – The Belmont Futurity Stakes – With Affirmed Vs Alydar (4th Meeting)

 

Horse Racing – 1977 – Alydar vs. Affirmed – The Champagne Stakes (5th Meeting)

 

Horse Racing – 1977 – Alydar vs. Affirmed – The Laurel Futurity (6th Meeting)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, Affirmed was ranked #12.  His career has been honored with his election to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1980.   While transporting myself back to the year 1978….and looking at the landscape of the years top sporting events and athletes…..there is no question that nothing and nobody captured the fancy of sports fans all over the USA quite like the head-to-head battle between Affirmed and Alydar….especially when the side-story was the brilliant job done by the youngest jockey to ever win the Triple Crown…..as Steve Cauthen that his youth and inexperience could provide a Triple Crown championship over Alydar jockeys Jorge Velasquez and Lafitt Pincay…..as the “Triple Crown Stallion & The Kid” stole the hearts of race fans all over America…..and secured their hallowed position and tribute here at ImaSportsphile.

Horse Racing – 1978 – The Travers Stake – Featuring Affirmed Vs Alydar – (Final Meeting)

 

 

 

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