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Affirmed vs. Alydar

Dateline: 07/09/00
Updated: 01/17/01

One of the greatest rivalries in racing history would have to be Affirmed and Alydar. They raced each other 10 times, from June 15, 1977, in the Youthful at Belmont, to August 19, 1978, in the Travers at Saratoga. Affirmed won seven of these matches including thrilling duels in all three Triple Crown races.

AFFIRMED
Owner: Harbor View Farm
Trainer: Laz Barrera
Jockey: Steve Cauthen
1977     9   7   2   0    $343,477
1978    11   8   2   0    $901,541
1979     9   7   1   1  $1,148,800
Totals  29  22   5   1  $2,393,818
ALYDAR
Owner: Calumet Farm
Trainer: John Veitch
Jockey: Jorge Velasquez
1977    10   5   4   0    $285,026
1978    10   7   3   0    $565,071
1979     6   2   2   1    $107,098
Totals  26  14   9   1    $957,195

They met six times as 2 year olds, the first in the Youthful Stakes at Belmont. This was Alydar's first start and he finished 5th while Affirmed won. They met five more times with Affirmed winning the Hopeful, Futurity, and Laurel Futurity while Alydar took the Great American and the Champagne. Alydar ended the year with a record of 10 starts, 5 wins, and 4 seconds. Affirmed ended the year with a record of 9 starts, 7 wins, and 2 seconds and was given the Eclipse Award as Champion 2 Year Old of 1977.

Alydar in the Kentucky Derby
Alydar at the Kentucky Derby
In their 3 year old seasons they took different paths to the Triple Crown races and didn't meet again until the Kentucky Derby. Alydar took the Florida route and won the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby and finally the Blue Grass by an incredible 13 lengths in 1:47 3/5. Affirmed, despite being a Florida bred, took the California route and won the San Felipe Handicap, Santa Anita Derby in 1:48 flat, and the Hollywood Derby in 1:48 1/5. Alydar had a stalking style while Affirmed was a speed horse so when they finally met again in the Kentucky Derby Alydar was made the slight favorite at 1.20-1 and Affirmed the second favorite at 1.80-1. Affirmed wasn't able to make the lead until the stretch, although he was never worse than third, while Alydar rallied from 9th and although he tried gamely to catch his rival he fell short by 1 1/2 lengths in second place. The final time was 2:01 1/5.
1978 Kentucky Derby chart notes:
AFFIRMED away alertly but held in reserve for six furlongs, moved up boldly along outside thereafter to take command on second turn, relinquished the lead momentarily a quarter mile out but responded to a rousing ride to regain command in upper stretch and was fully extended to hold ALYDAR safe. The latter, under snug restraint early, commenced to advance from the outside after six furlongs, continued wide in the stretch, swerved to bump with BELIEVE IT in closing sixteenth and finished strongly when straightened.

Affirmed and Alydar silks

In the Preakness, the public made Affirmed the favorite given his front running style and the speed favoring reputation of Pimlico. He didn't disappoint as he got the lead by the 1/4 pole and stayed there the rest of the way, winning in 1:54 2/5. Alydar rallied from 6th but just couldn't get past the stubborn Affirmed.
1978 Preakness chart notes:
AFFIRMED, taken under light restraint after breaking alertly, quickly joined TRACK REWARD from the outside, gained the advantage leaving the first turn, made the pace under clever rating, responded gamely to rousing when challenged by ALYDAR in the upper stretch and turned back that rival under brisk handling. ALYDAR, under restraint and allowed to settle early, advanced willingly outside of horses in backsretch, engaged AFFIRMED well out from the rail approacking the stretch to nearly reach even terms then couldn't get to that rival when set down in a steady drive.

Affirmed and Alydar silks

Only three rivals showed up to challenge the pair in the Belmont and the race basically turned into a match race with the pair running 1-2 almost the whole way. The final 7 furlongs of the race they went at it head to head. For a moment at the head of the stretch Alydar actually got his head in front. Affirmed's jockey, Steve Cauthen remembers: "Alydar was really breathing down my neck. He got a head in front of us for a few strides, but once we got the lead back, I knew he'd never give it up." And he didn't as the pair finished only a head apart in a final time of 2:26 4/5, their closest rival 13 lengths farther back. Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner and Alydar became forever known as the only horse to finish second in all three races.
1978 Belmont chart notes:
AFFIRMED went right to the front and was rated along on the lead while remaining well out from the rail. He responded readily when challenged by ALYDAR soon after entering the backstretch, held a narrow advantage into the stretch while continuing to save ground and was under left-handed urging to prevail in a determined effort. ALYDAR, away in good order, saved ground to the first turn. He came out to go after AFFIRMED with seven furlongs remaining, raced with that rival to the stretch, reached almost even terms with AFFIRMED near the 3/16th pole but wasn't good enough in a stiff drive.

Affirmed and Alydar silks

1978 Travers program page
After the Triple Crown the rivals met only one more time in the Travers at Saratoga in what would become their most controversial meeting. Only two rivals showed up this time and again Affirmed was made a slight favorite over Alydar by the record crowd of over 50,000. Affirmed was carried out a bit by longshot Shake Shake Shake who lead for the first 1/2 mile and Velasquez on Alydar took aim at the hole on the rail that opened up. Pincay, subbing for an injured Cauthen, gunned Affirmed ahead and angled over to the rail, shutting Alydar off and causing him to nearly fall. Affirmed went on to win by 1 3/4 in 2:02 and Alydar recovered to stay second, but as you would expect there was both an inquiry and a jockey's objection. The stewards made the right decision and disqualified Affirmed and placed him second to Alydar.
1978 Travers chart notes:
AFFIRMED away in good order, prompted the pace while racing outside SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE into the backstretch, took over just after going a half, came over racing into the far turn interfering with ALYDAR, settled into the stretch with a clear advantage and held sway under good handling. AFFIRMED was disqualified and placed second following a stewards inquiry and a foul claim by the rider of ALYDAR. ALYDAR, never far back while being reserved early, moved through along the inside to go to the leaders midway along the backstretch, was taken up sharply when AFFIRMED came over at the far turn, dropped back several lengths after coming out, came again to make a bid leaving the turn but wasn't able to gain on the winner during the drive.

That was their last meeting as Alydar was injured shortly after and laid off for a long time. He came back at age 4 but was never quite the same and retired after six races. Affirmed won the Eclipse Award for Champion 3 Year Old of 1978 as well as Horse of the Year. He went on to at age 4 to win over a million dollars to become racing's first winner of over $2 million and won the Eclipse Awards for Champion Older Horse of 1979 and Horse of the Year again. Both were eventually elected to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.

Affirmed and Alydar silks

Affirmed at stud
Affirmed at stud, 1997
Alydar got his final revenge on his nemesis in the breeding shed, far outperforming Affirmed in that department. He was always high in the sire rankings and had such outstanding offspring as Easy Goer, Alysheba, Turkoman,and Althea. Although his stud fee was not published, it was surely well above $100,000. His career was cut short when, under mysterious circumstances, he broke his leg in a stall accident and was eventually put down in 1990. His death is still being investigated as part of the Calumet Farm bankruptcy scandal and was most likely not an accident. In his 11 seasons at stud, Alydar sired 706 foals of which 520 made it to the races averaging $113,665 in earnings for a total of $59,105,824.

Affirmed was standing at stud for a $30,000 fee at Jonabell Farm in Kentucky until his death on January 12, 2001. He had to be euthanized due to laminitis which was aggravated while trying to recover from a ligament injury to the other foreleg. While he has had a few nice offspring like Flawlessly and Peteski, he has never come close to approaching the overall quality that Alydar did. So far in 18 seasons at stud, Affirmed has sired 808 foals of which 560 have made it to the races, averaging only $65,177 in earnings for a total of $36,238,158.

Affirmed and Alydar silks

Affirmed and Alydar info on the web:

Alydar photo courtesy of Buster Massey, Affirmed photos courtesy of Karen Estis, Travers program and ticket courtesy of Tom Sporney

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