Name:Harrison Location:United States

The Original Lovable Little Fuzzball

Here's the straight stuff.

The adventures of Harrison are true.
Try a few of his Crunchy Bites for a taste.
--Alpha Human Mom

Friday, May 02, 2008

Me And My Shadow

Affirmed became one of the most famous raceshorses in history, in great part due to his magnificent rival, Alydar. Had Alydar been born one year later, we might have seen three Triple Crown winners in a row. Instead, we have the memory—and videos—of some of the finest stretch duels ever run.

Born in Florida, Affirmed grew into a handsome, shining chestnut with a star and a stripe, near perfect confirmation, and a fastidious nature. After every win, Affirmed would enter the winner's enclosure and carefully wipe his mouth on his groom's pants before posin' for pictures as if sayin' "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille." We champions have to have our little rituals, ya' know.

[No kidding. I remember how you would lift your leg on the #1 marker every time you won.~AHM]

[Well, it was mine, wasn't it?~Harrison]

Gettin' back to Affirmed… He won his first two races easily. In his third, however, he was second to—Alydar. Thus the rivalry began. The youngster crossed the country to win the Hollywood Juvenile then back to Saratoga for another easy win. Not too many trainers would ship their charges back and forth these days considerin' the wear and tear of travel too exhausin' for a young horse. Gives ya' an idea how brilliant Affirmed really was.

Affirmed met Alydar in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga ten days after his last win and won by a convincing half length. A few weeks later the two hooked up in a stretch duel that eeriely foreshawdowed their entire racin' career. They battled furiously down the long Belmont Park homestretch with Affirmed winnin' the Futurity by a nose in the final strides.

In a muddy Champagne Stakes, Alydar got some of his own back in the Champagne Stakes, sneakin' up on Affirmed to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Said jockey Steve Cauthen: "My horse had plenty left, but he was so busy playing games with Darby Creek Road he never even saw Alydar until it was too late."

The two met one final time as two-year-olds. Affirmed changed leads at least a dozen times as the rivals fought down the homestretch with the third place horse another ten lengths back. Affirmed won by a neck.

As a three-year-old, Affirmed prepped for the Derby in California, winnin' one race at Santa Anita, then the San Felipe Handicap, and finally takin' the Santa Anita Derby by eight lengths. With Alydar racin' in the east, Affirmed had almost no competition and liked to play when he got the lead. On orders from trainer Laz Barrera, teen-age jockey Steve Cauthen used his whip to try to wake up the horse up in the Hollywood Derby. Affirmed ignored him completely, winning by only two lengths. But Barrera didn't have to worry. When Affirmed went back east to meet Alydar once again, there was no playin' around.

Affirmed spent the early part of the Kentucky Derby in third, takin' control at the head of the stretch. Come-from-behind runner Alydar closed quickly as they headed for home, but had to settle for second money since he could not catch the flying colt in the pink silks. The roses belonged to Affirmed, who won by a length and a half.

In the Preakness, Alydar decided not to wait quite as long to challenge his rival. When Affirmed took the lead Alydar was only five lengths away—virtually in Affirmed's back pocket. They came together as they turned for home, two rivals vyin' for advantage down the stretch. In the end, Affirmed claimed the Black Eyed Susans by only a neck.

The Belmont gave Affirmed the chance to go for the Crown. Alydar, was out for vengence—and don't believe for a moment equines, canines, fe-lyings and other "—ines" don't think about such things. Affirmed took the early lead, slowin' the pace to "walk-in-the-park" speed, but this time Alydar abandoned his trademark come-from-behind style to join battle at the half-mile mark. Back and forth it went. Alydar got his nose in front at one point, but Affirmed fought back.

And down the stretch they came! Affirmed—Alydar—Affirmed—Alydar… The Belmont Park grandstand was rockin' as thousands of fans screamed the two horses down to the wire. In the last jump, Affirmed stretched out his elegant neck, and won by a head.

Affirmed's trainer, Laz Barrera, once said: "Affirmed is greater than Secretariat, or any Triple Crown winner, because only Affirmed had to face Alydar."

One of the most anticipated races of the 1978 season was the Marlboro Cup which would match Affirmed with 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Slew won when, to the puzzlement of all concerned, Affirmed scarcely offered a challenge. The mystery was solved in the morning, when the vet discovered a throat infection.

Affirmed's bad luck continued when he met Seattle Slew in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Affirmed's saddle slipped in the stretch. But even though he was beaten in the last three races of the season, once by disqualification (which gave Alydar an unearned win), once by poor health, and once by tack failure, Affirmed was voted Horse of the Year. To some, the official honor seemed hollow, since many people felt Seattle Slew was the better horse.

Affirmed wintered in California, and in February started his handicap career with a ten length victory. Assigned 128 pounds for the Santa Anita Handicap, he handled it easily and broke the track record. More weight was added for the Californian Stakes which he won by five lengths. The 132 pounds Affirmed was given for the Hollywood Gold Cup might have worried some, but again Affirmed held the lead to win by three lengths.

After a rest, the four-year-old star returned to New York where Affirmed faced 1979 Derby/Preakness winner Spectacular Bid in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, givin' away only five pounds. It was perhaps his finest race. Affirmed held off four separate and impressive challenges from Spectacular Bid, with Bill Shoemaker in the irons, as well a challenge from Coastal, the 1979 Belmont Stakes winner.

As a natural speed horse who won most of his races on or near the lead Affirmed refused to lose. When challenged in the stretch by the likes of Alydar or Spectacular Bid, he simply would not let them pass. With the heady combination of speed and heart, Affirmed was the kind of champion we won't see again anytime soon.

Affirmed retired after the Jockey Club Gold Cup. In 2001, Affirmed was euthanized after falling seriously ill with laminitis, the same disease that led to the death of fellow Triple Crown winner Secretariat and Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. He was buried whole--the ultimate honor for a race horse—at Jonabell Farm, wearing the flamingo pink silks of his original owners, Harbor View Farm.

Alydar did finally beat Affirmed in one area. He was the better stallion. His offspring include Alysheba, winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Breeder's Cup Classic. He also sired such champions as Easy Goer, Turkoman, and Strike the Gold.

Sadly his end was the stuff of mystery and tragedy. In November of 1990, Alydar appeared to have shattered his right hind leg in his stall at Calumet Farms. Emergency surgery was performed the next day in an attempt to repair the injury, but the leg broke again. On November 15, Alydar was euthanized. At the time, the owner of Calumet Farm was in dire trouble financially, and suspicions of foul play by the management were raised. John Thomas Lundy (J.T.) was indicted and convicted in 2000 on separate fraud charges and served almost four years in prison.

posted by Harrison at 11:16 PM


Post a Comment