06/03/2009 12:17PM

Affirmed

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Although an equine Triple Crown won't be on the line at Belmont Park on Saturday, let's take a look back at the last thoroughbred champion to achieve racing immortality by sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.

From Joe Hirsch's "1978 Racing in Review" column in the 1979 American Racing Manual

"...His victory in the Preakness put Affirmed over the $1,000,000 mark in earnings, the first time a 3-year-old enjoyed this status at such an early date.  Yet despite this achievement, and his superb record of 13 wins in 15 starts, Affirmed hadn't captured every heart.  There were some who felt that at the mile and a half of the Belmont Stakes, Alydar might yet get up in time. 
In any event, everyone was eager to see the final race of the classic series.  And so it was that a crowd of 65,417 turned out for the 110th running of the $184,300 Belmont on June 10.  Both colts had trained up to the race beautifully.  Affirmed had gone a mile in 1:40 1/5 on June 1 and five furlongs in 1:01 on June 7.  Alydar also worked June 1, going the Belmont distance of a mile and a half in 2:43 3/5.  He came back four days later with six furlongs in 1:12 3/5 and then blew out the morning before the race in :35 for three furlongs on a sloppy track.
In preparing Our Mims for the 12-furlong Coaching Club American Oaks the preceding spring, Veitch worked his strapping filly a mile and a half and saw her win off that demanding regimen.  The son of a Hall of Fame horseman (Sylvester Veitch), he knew the Belmont normally required the acme of fitness.  With an opponent as determined as Affirmed, the need was even greater.  Veitch also took the blinkers off Alydar for his final works and for his Belmont race.  Alydar had worn blinkers winning the Sapling as a 2-year-old in the fifth start."

"Veitch was confident that Alydar had an excellent chance to turn the tables on Affirmed in the Belmont, which was to be the ninth meeting between these superb colts.  However, Veitch wanted to change tactics, to deny Affirmed the easy lead he enjoyed from the outset in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.  The Calumet trainer wanted Alydar to contest the issue almost from the start, and so instructed Velasquez.
The paddock at Belmont Park was jammed on Belmont Day, for everyone wanted another chance to see racing's most exciting show.  Both colts were remarkable in appearance as they stripped for action under the scrutiny of their admirers.  Despite the rigors of Triple Crown competition, which have wasted so many 3-year-olds, Affirmed and Alydar seemed to thrive on their grueling rivalry and hard training. 
The large crowd sent Affirmed off at 3-5 while Alydar was second choice at 11-10.  Darby Creek Road, third choice in the field of five, was 10-1. 
As anticipated, Cauthen had Affirmed away alertly to lead through a quarter in :25, a half-mile in :50.  Alydar, rarely a bullet out of the gate, saved ground to the first turn, then improved his position smartly.  By the time Affirmed was straightening into the backstretch, Alydar was second and soon challenged the favorite, as per Veitch's orders."

"After six furlongs in 1:14, the protagonists were half a length apart and crowd roared in appreciation of the drama it was witnessing.  It was apparent this was to be a duel to the death, with no quarter asked and none given.  They went the first mile in 1:37 2/5, and when they passed the three-eighths pole, they were virtually even. 
They went the mile and a quarter in 2:01 3/5, Affirmed on the inside and Alydar lapped on him, and as they entered the stretch, Alydar appeared to move abreast of the favorite.  Roars of excitement broke over the track as Affirmed and Alydar battled in full view of the crowd.  Cauthen, sensing the need for special measures, had saved something just for that moment.  He had never hit Affirmed left-handed, but now, with Velasquez riding him so close it was difficult to whip right-handed, he switched hands and got the response he sought. 
Affirmed inched ahead and held that lead to the wire.  Near the finish, one could see Alydar thrusting his neck forward, straining with every muscle to catch his rival.  But he missed by a head as Belmont Park erupted in an explosion of fervor.  Some in the stands weren't certain about the outcome but Cauthen rose in his irons, a stride or two past the finish line, and waved his whip in exultation."

"It was one of the greatest races every run, anywhere.  Those who saw Jaipur and Ridan race the mile and a quarter of the 1962 Travers as a team witnessed a smasher.  Gun Bow and Kelso were magnificent in disputing the stretch run of the 1964 Woodward, and those who were present at Santa Anita in 1950, when Noor beat Citation in the San Juan Capistrano, will never forget that thrilling encounter.  But none of these duels took place in a race as important as a classic, and the crowd sustained its applause and shouts of approval for victor and vanquished alike for many minutes.
When calm prevailed, it was noted that Affirmed's 2:26 4/5 for the mile and a half was the third fastest Belmont, topped only by Secretariat's record 2:24 in 1973 and Gallant Man's 2:26 3/5 in 1957.  In the previous Belmont, when Seattle Slew completed his sweep of the Triple Crown, he was timed in 2:29 3/5.
For the record, Darby Creek Road finished third in the Belmont, 13 lengths behind Alydar, while Judge Advocate and Noon Time Spender completed the small field in that order.  Both Lou Rondinello, who trained Darby Creek Road, and John Russell, who trained Judge Advocate, admitted later that once the field entered the stretch and the fate of their own colts appeared sealed, they swung their glasses to the embattled leaders and thrilled, as racing fans, to the fury of the battle.
On the morning following the Belmont, a jubilant Laz Barrera said that Affirmed had come out of the arduous Triple Crown series in excellent order and would probably have the historic Travers Stakes at Saratoga as his next major goal.  John Veitch also listed the Travers as Alydar's principal summer objective.  He added that he was not discouraged in the slightest and that he felt Alydar could beat Affirmed.
Affirmed and Alydar were restless on holiday.  There is no greater drain on the physical resources of a thoroughbred than participation in the Triple Crown races, but these two remarkable individuals shook off any ill effects quickly and were ready to resume astonishingly soon.
Bold Forbes, the 1976 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner, was so used up in this crucible that six weeks after the Belmont, he stood in his stall like a shell-shocked soldier, his head drooping, his manner listless.  Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown hero, was never himself after the Belmont, for the remainder of the year.  A series of illnesses through late summer and fall kept him on the sidelines..."


Here is a video of the 1978 Belmont Stakes (courtesy of youtube):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2sjDivffYE&feature=related


Imagine the uproar if Chip Wooley worked Mine That Bird like Veitch trained Alydar leading up the race.  Nine days out, he worked 1 1/2 miles!!!  Four days after that, he drilled six furlongs, and he then blew out three-eighths the morning of the race!!!  That's a racehorse!

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BTW, is there HG this week, or is it the Belmont?
Katieattherail

Yes, the Belmont Stakes is this week's HandiGambling exercise.  The same rules apply as the Preakness and Derby contests.  I believe there is a Brooklyn-Belmont double that can be used as well.

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i just seen that calvin said MTB will win the belmont..what do you guys think about him saying that?..also the last time said something like that publicly was the BC Classic with Street Sense and we all know what happened there
addc26

Borel told Bob Costas, and the world for that matter, that Rachel Alexandra would win the Preakness while in the jock's room before the race.  He was right that time.  We'll see how good a handicapper he is this week.

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DAN-since you've got some "pull" I would think,  in the filters in addition to dirt and turf, what are the odds of adding artificial as one of the "surface options". Being in the Chicago area, the difference between performance at Arlington and Hawthorne can be astounding (both ways) I'm trying to talk Mike into claiming a horse who is pretty much near or at the back at Arlington race in and race out but "owns" Hawthorne.
Stephen Taylor

Formulator Web has the synthetic stats (as well as synthetic to turf, synthetic to dirt, and vice versa).  For example, Frank Springer (trainer of the first horse in the first race tomorrow) is 4-50 over the past five years on synthetic tracks.

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Talk to you later,

Dan