The Brock Talk

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Affirmed vs. Alydar in the Belmont Stakes

Authors Note: The 1978 Belmont Stakes is another installment in our series of great Belmonts in History.

One of the greatest rivalries in Thoroughbred racing began on June 15, 1977 when a 2-year Affirmed made his second start in the Youthful Stakes at Belmont Park. He was fit and sharp coming off a four-length victory in his first start over maidens. He would win the Youthful by a neck over Wood Native. A green and immature Alydar was making his first start and finished five lengths back in fifth.

The two met again just three weeks later at Belmont again in the Great American Stakes. The lean and fit Affirmed had trained up to the Great American, but trainer John Veitch sent Alydar back into the maiden ranks to instill confidence. Alydar came out of that six-length win with a victory and a whole different attitude. He came out of the Great American the same way, defeating Affirmed by three and a half lengths.

Affirmed would win the Hopeful and Belmont Futurity over Alydar who came back to win the Champagne. At the end of their 2-year-old year, the score was Affirmed 3, Alydar 2.

Fast forward to the first Saturday of May, 1978 and Affirmed again won over Alydar in second in the Kentucky Derby and then again in the Preakness. When the Belmont came three weeks later, nobody was ready for what they were about to see.

What Secretariat's Belmont was in defining dominence the 1978 Belmont defines determination. By the time the Belmont came, Affirmed looked tired and less charasmatic in the morning. While Alydar seemed to be improving.

After just a half-mile, just one-third the distance of the Belmont, Affirmed and 18-year-old sensation Steve Cauthen found themselves in an apparent suicidal speed dual with Alydar in one of the fastest half-miles in the race's storied history. As they turned for home, Affirmed appeared to find another bit of energy and began to pull away from Alydar and jockey Angel Cordero Jr. But the long campaign seemed to be eroding away at Affirmed on the inside as Alydar quickly ranged up along side as they approach the top of the stretch. What remains has been called one of the greatest stretch runs in the history of the Triple Crown.

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