Belmont Stakes Special: Affirme vs. Alydar 1978 Rivalry


It was May 19, 2013, and I was home from church. I was on the computer, and was thinking about the 2013 Preakness that was just the day before. The Kentucky Derby winner, Orb finished fourth to Oxbow, and thus, once again, racing fans had to face the fact that the Triple Crown will be vacant.

We racing fans had to face the fact that once again, no horse has been able to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

It has been 35 long years since Affirmed (Exclusive Native-Won’t Tell You-Crafty Admiral), owned by Harbor View Farms won all three legs of the Triple Crown.

[adinserter block=”1″]Now, I am going to be aging myself, but, as a 10 year old, I can still remember “the Kid,” 18 year old Steve Cauthen. I remember Cauthen wearing those pink and black silks, and smiling in the winner’s Circle of all three races.The image of him in the Derby comes to mind quickly.

Laz Barrera, Affirmed’s trainer, who I thought was a pompous jerk, instantly comes to my memory. I remember his stuck up attitude, and being all full of himself.

Of course, without looking at a video or photo, I remember Affirmed, with his nice chestnut coat, and that stripe down his face. I was not a huge fan of his then, or his connections, and I surely am not a fan now. He never was one of those horses I liked. I do recognize him as one of the best ever. He was amazing, especially in his 4YO year.

Let’s say I have a huge appreciation, and respect for Affirmed. I especially respect his courageousness. He was a front running speedster, but when great horses like Alydar, Exceller, and Spectactular Bid challenged him, Affirmed was able to fight them off.

Let’s discuss the horse who was Affirmed’s thorn in his side, Alydar. Alydar (Raise A Native-Sweet Tooth-On and On), was owned and bred by the famous Calumet Farm, trained by John Veitch, and ridden by Jorge Velasquez. I can remember Velasquez being very humble and quiet. John Veitch was very confident in Alydar.

I always remembered Veitch from all the other trainers due to his bald head. I remember the images of Lucille Wright and her husband holding hands as the Derby ran. What really stood out was the famous Calumet Devil Red and Blue silks that Velasquez wore when he was on Alydar, and of course, the red cap. When Alydar wore blinkers, they were red also.

I remember Alydar for his stunning chestnut coat. His stalking style of racing was exciting, and I loved that star on his forehead. One of Alydar’s characteristics, which I believe cost him several races, especially against Affirmed, was that he never changed leads (switch from one lead leg to another), and he didn’t like being hit left handed.

I loved horses all my life from when I was about 4. I didn’t get into racing till I was about 9, when a horse named Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977. However, it was Alydar, and not Affirmed that got me hooked, and I have loved racing and Alydar ever since.

I love Alydar more than ANY horse that has ever run in history. Because of stuff in my life, I have always pulled for those who try harder, or who are overcoming something. It is easy to pull for those who have a leg up, or for those who have everything. I like to pull for people who have to work a little harder to make it. I always will give more credit to those who win more, or accomplish more with less, than someone who already is two steps ahead.

What I loved about Alydar is that he never gave up. He bravely battled Affirmed, and gave it his best shot. I just was amazed by him. I got a lot of strength from him. I learned to never give up.

When away from Affirmed, he showed that he was a great horse in his own right, by demolishing fields in the Bluegrass Stakes, the Florida Derby, and against older horses in the Whitney. In about any other year, Alydar would have been a Triple Crown winner.

That being said, let’s discuss the two horses as far as their Triple Crown Series, and their legendary Belmont Stakes, 35 years ago.

The two horses started their rivalry as 2YOs in 1977 in the Youthful Stakes, with Affirmed winning, and Alydar (his first race) finishing fifth. During their 2YO season, the two legends would meet five more times, with Affirmed winning three, and Alydar winning two. Affirmed was voted Outstanding 2YO of the Year for 1977 at the Eclipse Awards.

During their 3YO seasons, leading up to their clash in the Triple Crown races, Affirmed and Alydar went their separate ways to get ready for the 3YO Classics. Affirmed went to California, and Alydar went to Florida. Alydar demolished horses in the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby, and the Bluegrass Stakes. Affirmed won the San Felipe, the Hollywood Derby, and the Santa Anita Derby.

When they met in the Kentucky Derby on May 6, 1978, Alydar was the slight favorite, due to his stalking style, and Affirmed, a front runner type, was the second choice.

I remember, at age 10, when the starters loaded Alydar, he did not want to go in the gate. I learned later that there are racehorses, like Alydar, who are not good gate horses.

Anyway, the race unfolds with Affirmed laying off the lead set by Raymond Earl, and Sensitive Prince. Affirmed gets the lead in the stretch. Alydar, who was laying off the pace in 9th down the backside, starts to make his move, and gets going in the stretch. Alydar tried to catch his rival, but falls 1 1/2 lengths short.

The 1978 Kentucky Derby:

Two weeks later, on May 20, 1978, Affirmed and Alydar faced off in the Preakness. This time, Alydar’s trainer John Veitch had Alydar’s jockey Jorge Velasquez get Alydar into the race earlier. This time, Affirmed was favored.

When the gates opened, Affirmed and Track Reward went to the front, and battled for the lead. Alydar was taken back to 6th. Coming around the clubhouse turn, Affirmed eventually grabbed that lead. However, Alydar makes a bold move down the backside, and by the mile pole, he is right there, and at the top of the stretch, he is challenging Affirmed. Affirmed manages to hang on by a neck.

The 1978 Preakness Stakes:

During the three weeks before the duo’s epic showdown at the Belmont Stakes on June 10, 1978, there was the usual speculation. Could Affirmed win the Triple Crown? Could there be back to back Triple Crown winners, as Seattle Slew had accomplished the feat the year before? Could Alydar, with his breeding, pull the upset?

Before I continue, I want to say that for me as a kid, this was so exciting. I was so enthralled with horse racing. The late 70’s for me, in general, was so exciting. It was fun, at least for me, to be a youth in the 70’s.

The cultural backdrop for me, living in Edison, NJ, was awesome. My New York Yankees and the rival Boston Red Sox were having an Affirmed vs Alydar battle of their own. Reggie Jackson was all the rage. Bucky Dent hitting that home run over the “Green Monster” in Fenway Park in 1978 was delightful.

The TV shows were much better. There was “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “One Day at a Time,” and “Sanford and Son.” They were controversial then, and very UN-PC. That was before every show nowadays has to be careful not to offend everyone. Imagine a show featuring a character like Archie Bunker or Fred Sanford today? That show would be attacked by the PC police in two seconds. Those were the days. (RIP to Jean Stapleton.)

As far as music is concerned, in 1977, I got into a little band from New York City called KISS, and they were the HOTTEST BAND IN THE WORLD, and at their peak in 1977-78. That was my first introduction to rock and roll.

So, I guess the cultural background I loved as a child is another reason why I am so attached to this particular Triple Crown Series, and this Belmont. It was one of the major things that I loved as a child. I loved the Alydar/Affirmed Rivalry, Seattle Slew (the year before), the NY Yankees, and KISS. That was my childhood, as far as liking celebrities and such.

Of course, as a grownup, I STILL love horse racing, KISS, and the Yankees. However, I love a lot more other things.

Now, back to the Belmont Stakes, which as I said, took place on June 10, 1978 at Belmont Park. For this race, not only was Alydar going to challenge Affirmed earlier, John Veitch was going to remove Alydar’s blinkers. The reason behind the move was to get Alydar to see Affirmed eye to eye. (Perhaps Veitch and Velasquez should have tried to get Alydar out of the habit of running on that same right lead also.).

The race unfolds with Affirmed going to the front. Judge Advocate is in second, and Alydar is on the rail in third. This does not last long. Affirmed is allowed to lope on the lead with a half mile time of :50. Alydar then makes his move, and challenges Affirmed down the backside at the 5/8ths marker, and the race pretty much turns into a match race. The other three horses are pretty much getting workouts.

Affirmed and Alydar duel down the backside, and increase the pace. From the point where the two horses go around the far turn till the finish, these horses just put on a show. It was a head and head battle that still blows my mind every time I see it. Jorge Velasquez had Cauthen and Affirmed closed in. Both jockeys were urging their horses. The exciting part for me was when Alydar took that lead for a brief moment. Affirmed, though, being hit left handed for the first time (Cauthen said later that Affirmed was tiring under the pressure, and he could not hit Affirmed right handed anymore, so he hit Affirmed for the very first time ever. ), got the lead back, and won the Belmont Stakes, by a head over Alydar, and the Triple Crown.

1978 Belmont Stakes Video:

Thirty Five years later, no horse has been able to win the Triple Crown since.

[adinserter block=”2″]The two horses did meet one last time (their 10th), in the Travers at Saratoga on August 19, 1978. Jockey legend Laffitt Pincay replaced an injured Steve Cauthen on Affirmed. Affirmed got caught wide by a horse named Shake Shake Shake, and finally dispatched “Shake” entering the far turn, when Alydar was challenging on the inside. When Alydar was within a neck of Affirmed, Pincay (for reasons only he knows) while going into the turn, has Affirmed slamming into Alydar. Not only did Alydar lose his action, and drop back about six lengths, he nearly went down, and nearly unseated Jorge Velasquez. Alydar, being the gutsy horse he was, got back into it, but could get no better than second to Affirmed by 2 lengths. The inquiry sign, and objection sign went up. The then record crowd was booing. Affirmed was disqualified, and rightly so. Alydar was declared the winner.

Of course, there was some bickering between the two camps, but sadly, the two rivals never met again.

1978 Travers Stakes Video (includes a brief interview with Alydar’s trainer, John Veitch):

Well, I hope that you enjoyed this blog. I look forward to your comments.

Terri Bey currently blogs for about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for Terri can be found here at Facebook- and at Twitter-

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  1. Your personal ride into racing and thrilling moments with Alydar are told as if written on the wings of a dragonfly and sealed with dirty pounding hooves. Projected onto a cultural backdrop, your writing makes the past alive. This is superb… one of the best things ever written… and I started with Shakespeare around 9 or 10 years old. Do I feel that, I thought to myself, because I've been close to Hialeah, Gulfstream, Bold Reasoning, the trotters when they were in Goshen, NY and adore these athletes… both rider and ridden? I haven't decided but, even if partly true, it doesn't diminish in any way your musculature with story telling. Thanks for the story… such an open window.


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