05/23/2012 2:19PM

Triple Crown Winners: Affirmed

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AFFIRMED - 1978

It has been 34 years since the last Triple Crown winner, in 1978. Perhaps the subsequent generations saw what it took to win the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes that year and decided it would just be too much trouble.

[LIFETIME PAST PERFORMANCES: Affirmed]

To win the Triple Crown that year, Harbor View Farm’s graceful red colt Affirmed first had to survive the sporadic training of a wet winter in California. Then in the Derby and the Preakness, Affirmed had to stay cool and collected despite constant attacks from his nemesis, Alydar, a colt who never gave up.

Finally, Affirmed had to survive a virtual match race in the Belmont Stakes, as Alydar came alongside entering the backstretch and refused to go away. In the end, it was Steve Cauthen’s surprising shot with the left-handed whip that sent Affirmed a head in front of Alydar at the wire.

Affirmed wore his Triple Crown well. In fact, no Triple Crown winner has gone on to accomplish more. Winning the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont was enough to make him Horse of the Year for 1978 at a time when Seattle Slew, Exceller, and, of course, Alydar roamed the land.

The following year, at age 4, Affirmed improved his game for trainer Lazaro Barrera and won the Strub Stakes, the Santa Anita Handicap, the Californian, the Hollywood Gold Cup, the Woodward, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It was more than enough to make him Horse of the Year again.

Despite the years, the memories of 1978 are still fresh. Affirmed had the kind of cool personality just right for the age – for any age. The word is charisma.

“He was a smarter horse than most of the people I know,” Barrera would say, bending his Cuban accent around unshakeable logic.

They all were rare gems, as distinct from each other as they were from their contemporaries. Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed – will there ever be another? We’ll find out on Saturday at Belmont Park, and if nothing else, at least his name seems made to order.

 

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

OWNER: Harbor View Farm
TRAINER: Lazaro S. Barrera
JOCKEY: Steve Cauthen
BREEDER: Harbor View Farm

As a 2-year-old, he exchanged decisions with Alydar, defeating his rival in the Hopeful, Belmont Futurity, and Laurel Futurity, but losing the Great American and Champagne. His eventful 3-year-old campaign began with dominance of California’s prep race, then three increasingly hard-fought victories over Alydar in the Triple Crown. The final meeting between the two was something of an anticlimax: Affirmed finished first, but was disqualified for impeding his rival on the backstretch. His season finished with two races against fellow Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. He lost the Marlboro Cup by three lengths, then faded to fifth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup after his saddle slipped. He was upset twice in California to begin his 4-year-old season, but then ran off seven straight wins, including the Big Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Profiles of Triple Crown winners

Sir Barton (1919) Gallant Fox (1930) Omaha (1935) War Admiral (1937)
Whirlaway (1941) Count Fleet (1943) Assault (1946) Citation (1948)
Secretariat (1973) Seattle Slew (1977) Affirmed (1978) ?