The Sport’s Great Rivalries: Affirmed and Alydar

Legends
Affirmed wins an extremely close Belmont Stakes. Photo courtesy of Blood-Horse/Bob Coglinese

There are millions of words that can be used to describe the intense emotions rolled into a classic rivalry.

Yet there’s just one word, with only three letters, that stamps certain athletic battles as those rare confrontations that can withstand the test of time and grow even more legendary with each passing generation.

And.

It’s that simple.

Whenever you cannot name one participant without the reflexive action of adding that “and” for the second one, you know you have something truly special.

Yankees and Red Sox.

Celtics and Lakers.

North Carolina and Duke.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

In horse racing, there’s one rivalry that set standards so high that it has not been matched in the last 38 years, and 38 years from now the same may be true.

Affirmed and Alydar.

From the spring of 1977 through the late summer of 1978, the two horses met on 10 occasions, highlighted by their epic clashes in three Triple Crown races.

Affirmed wins a close Belmont Stakes. Photo courtesy of Blood-Horse/Bob Coglinese

In the 1978 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Harbor View Farm’s Affirmed and Calumet Farm’s Alydar raced against each other for a combined total of nearly four miles with about two lengths separating them in the three races. The Derby was the most “lopsided” of the trio, when Affirmed prevailed by 1 ½ lengths.

After that they engaged in a memorable stretch duel in the Preakness, with Affirmed winning by a neck.

Then on racing’s biggest stage, with a Triple Crown on the line in the Belmont Stakes, they authored what many regard as the sport’s greatest race when they battled alongside each other for the final seven furlongs, neither giving way.  Affirmed won that ultimate test of stamina and courage and reached the wire by a head over his ubiquitous rival as the two horses raced as a coupled entry into racing lore with that “and” forever between them.

“You can’t mention one without the other and that’s how they will always be remembered. You don’t just remember the victor. You remember them both synonymously because every time they met, they were right there at the finish and they put on a show,” John Veitch, who trained Alydar, said in a 2015 interview . “You’ll get horses who run against each other a lot, but they are not as consistent as Alydar and Affirmed. That was the wonderful part of the rivalry.”

The rivalry surely tilted in Affirmed’s favor. He was victorious in seven of the 10 meetings for owners Louis and Patrice Wolfson and trainer Laz Barrera.  Alydar’s three victories included a win via disqualification in the 1978 Travers.

Yet what made their races such unforgettable blockbuster events was that in those 10 meetings they finished one-two in nine of them and one of them was the winner in all 10 of the races.

“They were so much better than the other horses that raced against them and that made the rivalry something very, very, special. I think it will resonate with people 100 years from now. Without a question it’s still the biggest rivalry in horse racing,” Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed in seven of the 10 races, including all three Triple Crown races, said in a recent interview. “It was like an Ali and Frazier fight. You’ll always remember what was going on in your life when it happened and what you were doing at the time. It was that special. (Writer) Bill Nack put it best when he said ‘If you weren’t exhausted watching it, you weren’t paying attention.’ It was one of those great things in sport.”

As inseparable as the two horses might have been, there was one quality that best explains why Affirmed was able to prevail in 70 percent of the clashes.

Alydar oozed class, a strapping homebred from one of the sport’s most famous farms who had a devastating knockout punch – when he could deliver it. Affirmed, on the other hand, was more of a street fighter whose will to win was unrivaled.

There were nine times in Affirmed’s 29 career starts where his margin of victory or defeat was less than a length. He won all of them.

Alydar, meanwhile, was involved in seven races where he won or lost by less than a length. He lost all seven of them.

“I think Affirmed had a little edge over everybody,” said Cauthen, a 1994 Hall of Fame inductee who turned 56 on May 1. “He was a winner. He loved to win, he loved to fight. He was like that guy in a bar looking for a fight. He loved racing and he loved to fight horses off.

“Yet I have to hand it to Alydar. He never quit. He kept coming back, even in the Belmont. You can understand a horse giving up when he couldn’t get past a horse like Affirmed, but he never quit. That’s why I admired both horses.”

It was also that fierce will of both horses that has allowed  Veitch to put aside the initial disappointment he felt over those 10 races and develop a deep appreciation for being part of racing’s most fabled rivalry.
“It’s very rewarding for me that people still come up to me and talk about Alydar and Affirmed and remember my association with both horses,” said Veitch, who is now 70 and works as a paddock judge at Keeneland. “The sport means everything to me, as it did to my father and grandfather, and it really is a thing of joy for me to have been part of it. It’s something I will always cherish.”

It was in 1977 that the great rivalry was born.

Affirmed and Alydar battle as 2-year-olds. Photo courtesy of Blood-Horse/Bob Coglinese

Affirmed came to the races first. Trained by Barrera, who had turned the speedy Bold Forbes into the winner of the 1976 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Affirmed was a smallish, lightly regarded colt when he entered the starting gate at Belmont Park on May 24, 1977 for his career debut.

Barrera had approached Cauthen about riding Affirmed, but he was sidelined by an injury for that first start. Instead, the son of Exclusive Native out of the Crafty Admiral mare Won’t Tell You, was ridden by Bernie Gonzalez when he was sent off at 14-1 odds but romped by 4 ½ lengths in his debut.

In contrast, Alydar was viewed as a future star from his earliest days.

When Veitch was named as Calumet’s trainer at the age of 30 in April of 1976, he took over a stable in a deep tailspin. In the 1940’s and 1950’s Calumet won the Derby seven times and was the industry’s gold standard. But from 1958 through 1976, Calumet’s lone winner of the run for the roses was Forward Pass, who was declared the winner of the 1968 edition after Dancer’s Image was disqualified for a drug violation, and the stable was represented by just three Derby starters in those 18 years.

When Veitch was brought in, the owners of Calumet, Admiral Gene Markey and his wife, Lucille (who assumed control of the farm following the death of her husband, William Wright, in 1950), were both roughly 80 years-old and in declining health. Yet it didn’t take long for Veitch to spark a revival and return the famed Calumet colors to prominence in major races.

In 1977, Veitch won the Alabama and Coaching Club Oaks with Our Mims, who was voted the year’s champion 3-year-old.

“Most people don’t realize that Calumet had such a dry spell from the time of (trainers) Ben and Jimmy Jones and had fallen off the map. To be a part of the resurgence of the farm was special for me,” Veitch said. “There were people who spent their entire working lives at the farm with the devil’s red and blue. And to have horses of championship caliber come along again, it brought them back to life. It was such a wonderful experience.

“And I think seeing her farm back in the limelight kept Lucille Markey alive longer and gave her a reason to live. It was a joy to be associated with the Markeys.”

Aside from Our Mims, there was also a homebred son of Raise a Native out of the On-and-On mare Sweet Tooth named Alydar who was creating excitement at the stable’s Lexington, Ky. farm.

“He showed great talent from the very beginning. When the farm staff shipped me Alydar in December of his yearling year he came highly recommended and I had seen him on numerous times at the farm when he was being broken and trained. He was a standout, physically and emotionally,” said Veitch, who entered the sport’s Hall of Fame in 2007. “I had tried to get a 2-year-old maiden race to go but he trained so well I was pretty much forced into running in a stakes.”

Veitch opted for the $37,000 Youthful Stakes as the spot for Alydar’s debut.

ROUND ONE

The Youthful Stakes, June 15, 1977, Belmont Park

Calumet’s faith in Alydar was embraced by the betting public, who made him the 9-5 favorite in a field of 11 2-year-olds.

One of the 11 was an impressive maiden winner named Affirmed, who was sent off at 3-1.

Alydar and rider Eddie Maple got off to a slow start, dropping back to ninth in the early stages and finished fifth.

On the front end, Affirmed and jockey Angel Cordero, Jr., pressed the pace of Wood Native, sitting a half-length behind him on the turn before edging away to a narrow lead in mid-stretch and ultimately prevailing by a neck.

Score: Affirmed 1, Alydar 0

Veitch was disappointed in Alydar’s performance but believed it was an educational effort and was delighted when the Calumet runner posted a 6 ¾-length victory over Believe It in a maiden race after that start.

The next stop for Alydar was a return to stakes company.

ROUND TWO

The Great American Stakes, July 6, 1977, Belmont Park

Though Alydar was matched against Affirmed once again, Alydar was bet down to an odds-on 3-5 favorite in a field of seven.

Affirmed shot out to a quick lead, but Alydar made a strong, three-wide move on the turn to catch Affirmed and then drew clear in the stretch to win by 3 ½ lengths.

Score:  Affirmed 1, Alydar 1

After the Great American, Alydar won the Tremont and Grade 1 Sapling at Monmouth, while Barrera sent Affirmed west to post a 7-length score in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship under Laffit Pincay, Jr.

When Affirmed returned east for the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, Barrera needed a new jockey as Cordero opted to ride another 2-year-old in the race, Tilt Up. He found one in the 17-year-old Cauthen, who had lost his “bug” in June after a phenomenal apprenticeship that saw him win his 100th race of the year in New York by Feb. 14.

In his first race back from a May injury that sidelined him for about a month, Cauthen was victorious aboard a Harbor View horse for Barrera named Little Miracle.

In the Sanford, Cauthen rode Little Miracle’s half-brother, Affirmed, for the first time.

“No one was thinking of Affirmed as a champion other than Laz at that point,” Cauthen said. “People were not lining up to ride him.”

Cauthen guided Affirmed to a 2 ¾-length victory over Tilt Up, setting the stage for the Grade 1 Hopeful and another meeting with Alydar.

ROUND THREE

The Grade 1 Hopeful, Aug. 27, 1977, Saratoga

In the Hopeful, Affirmed was third in the early stages, with Alydar, the even-money favorite, was right behind him in fourth.

On the turn, they moved together and Alydar drew alongside him, seemingly poised for an encore of his win in the Great American. But this time, Affirmed dug down and would not let Alydar go by, winning by a half-length.

“Affirmed won the Sanford for me and he won it nicely,” Cauthen said. “But that wasn’t the day he impressed me as the horse he turned out to be. That came in the Hopeful.”

Score: Affirmed 2, Alydar 1

Two weeks later, the scene shifted to Belmont Park for the Futurity at a seven furlong distance, which was a half-furlong longer than the Hopeful and brought Alydar back to the scene of his victory over Affirmed in the Great American.

ROUND FOUR

The Grade 1 Futurity, Sept. 10, 1977, Belmont Park

For the first time Affirmed was sent off as the favorite over Alydar, breaking from the gate as a 6-5 choice in a race that produced the closest finish in their 10 meetings.

At the 3/8ths pole, the Harbor View and Calumet stars were joined at the hip. By the quarter pole. Alydar forged to a slim lead. But once again, Affirmed fought back with gusto, putting a head in front in mid-stretch. Alydar did not back down and took a last, desperate run at his rival, cutting into the short margin, but falling a nose short at the wire.

Score: Affirmed 3, Alydar 1

A month later, Affirmed and Alydar were both pointed to Belmont’s Champagne Stakes at a mile, but there was something different this time. Perennial New York riding champ Jorge Velasquez had recovered from an injury and took over the mount on Alydar for the Champagne.

ROUND FIVE

The Grade 1 Champagne, Oct. 15, 1977, Belmont Park

The Champagne was contested on a muddy track, and as usual Affirmed used his tactical speed to grab an early lead over Alydar. Affirmed, a 6-5 favorite, was third after the opening quarter-mile, two lengths off the lead, and Alydar was fourth.

Approaching the half-mile pole, Affirmed and Cauthen made their move for the lead, but Alydar did not go with him. Instead Darby Creek Road moved as a team with Affirmed while Velasquez bided his time behind them.

Affirmed and Darby Creek Road forged to the front before the Harbor View runner gave his new rival a taste of what Alydar had been receiving. But as Affirmed edged clear of Darby Creek Road at the top of the stretch, Alydar came charging in the center of the track and flew past Affirmed.

Affirmed tried to battle back, but could only cut the margin to 1 ¼ lengths at the wire.

Score: Affirmed 3, Alydar 2

After the Champagne, Veitch mulled resting Alydar for the rest of the year but decided to tackle Affirmed again in the Laurel Futurity.

“Alydar might have been 2-year-old champion if we didn’t run him after the Champagne but we decided to go on with him, with Mrs. Markey’s approval,” Veitch said. “In hindsight I shouldn’t have run. But we had our eye on next year and the Kentucky Derby, which meant so much to the people at Calumet.

“I was very confident going into the Laurel Futurity and wanted to run Alydar two turns to get a better idea of what I had and what I had to do in the upcoming winter and early spring to get him ready for the Derby. Two turns can throw a monkey wrench at horses. It was a gamble, but I was confident.”

ROUND SIX

The Grade 1 Laurel Futurity, Oct. 29, 1977, Laurel

The presence of the two 2-year-old stars accounted for a field of just four in the Laurel Futurity and put pressure on Velasquez to make sure Affirmed did not control a leisurely pace.

Star de Naskra set the pace in the mile and a sixteenth stakes with Affirmed a length behind him and  Alydar, a 2-5 favorite, directly inside of Affirmed, which delighted Cauthen.

“Alydar never liked it on the inside so I stayed off the rail and Alydar would either have to come out and go around us or move inside us,” Cauthen said. “He came up the inside and didn’t like it. That was one of the tricks I had up my sleeve and he didn’t do that again.”

Though Alydar surged to a short lead while running inside of Affirmed, in the stretch, Affirmed forged to a narrow advantage and held off the persistent Alydar by a neck to wrap up the 2-year-old championship.

“It surprised me that I came up to Affirmed as if I was going to blow by him, but when I got to within a neck of him, he just kept going,” Velasquez said. “It was like that the whole stretch.”

Score: Affirmed 4, Alydar 2

Affirmed took the rest of 1977 off, while Alydar returned a month later in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct but finished second to Believe It by two lengths.

After that, both camps prepared for the Triple Crown.

Affirmed spent the winter in California, putting on some size and reeling off four straight wins, capped by a two-length score in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Hollywood Park.

Affirmed after winning the Santa Anita Derby. Photo courtesy of Blood-Horse/Santa Anita

Alydar remained on the East Coast, winning three straight races, including the Florida Derby and Flamingo. He then headed to Kentucky and romped by 13 lengths in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, a race that had more significance than its role as a Derby prep.

“We had a perfect winter. Everything went according to plan,” Veitch said. “Alydar exceeded our expectations in Florida and the race in the Blue Grass was very impressive.

“The Blue Grass was very important to the Admiral and Mrs. Markey because they lived at the farm about a mile away from the track and for them it was the last time either of them would ever go to the races and see Alydar in action. The Wood would have been a better choice because it was two weeks away from the Derby. It would have given me more time to prepare in Kentucky, because in those days the Blue Grass was only nine days away from the Derby. But the Blue Grass worked well for other horses and I was confident it was the right move.”

Since the Markeys were both in wheelchairs, Keeneland allowed them to be driven in the farm station wagon to an area near the winner’s circle where they could watch the race from the rail.

It was an emotionally charged afternoon fueled by poignant scenes such as the one during the post parade when Velasquez walked Alydar over to the Markeys.

“Here’s your baby,” Velasquez said as Alydar’s head turned toward his owners. “Don’t he look pretty?”

“It pleased the Admiral and Mrs. Markey greatly to come to Keeneland to see Alydar and Keeneland made it very special for them since they were elderly and couldn’t get around as well,” Veitch recalled. “Even when they were at Saratoga they could not go to the races. I was pleased to make that happen. It made Mrs. Markey feel wonderful to be able to go to the races and see the fans and she was overwhelmed by the reaction of the fans when Alydar came on the track and everyone applauded. It brought tears to her eyes.”

The excitement generated by Affirmed and Alydar’s duels at two created wild excitement for the 1978 Triple Crown. The consensus of opinion was that the longer, classic distances would favor Alydar, but Cauthen was not swayed.

Affirmed alone at the wire for once. Photo courtesy of The Blood-Horse/Santa Anita

“Going into the Derby we didn’t know how much Alydar had improved since two,” Cauthen said. “The thing about Affirmed was that he was such an intelligent horse. He was tractable and he could do whatever you asked. We had options, tactically speaking, that Alydar didn’t have, and we used every advantage we had to try to get Affirmed home first in the Triple Crown.”

ROUND SEVEN

The Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, May 6, 1978, Churchill Downs

Alydar was sent off as a 6-5 favorite in the Derby, while Affirmed was the 9-5 second choice in a field of 11.

The mile and a quarter opening leg of the Triple Crown started routinely for Affirmed as he rated in third early on and waited for Cauthen to call on him.

But Alydar had a miserable trip. Veitch said a rock or clump of dirt hit him in the eye and he fell behind by as much as 17 lengths.

Predictably, Alydar charged into contention on the final turn, but he had spotted Affirmed too big of a lead.

“It wasn’t until the half-mile pole that Alydar started to come on,” said Velasquez, who is now 69 and works as the agent for jockey Austin Solis. “He made a strong move but it wasn’t strong enough to catch Affirmed.

The Harbor View colt took control leaving the quarter pole and was able to fend off the late-charging Alydar by 1 ½ lengths.

“In the end, it worked out exactly as we planned. We jumped out and made Alydar come after us, only that time Alydar showed up on the scene way too late,” Cauthen said. “For some reason he couldn’t get it going. He came flying, but we were home free by then. We won comfortably and that allowed me to save some horse for the Preakness and Belmont, which were much tougher races.”

Score: Affirmed 5, Alydar 2

Stung by the loss at Churchill Downs, Veitch put some quick drills in Alydar to make sure he would be closer to the lead in the shorter Preakness.

“I figured I’d get him next time,” Velasquez said of Affirmed.

ROUND EIGHT

The Grade 1 Preakness, May 20, 1978, Pimlico

Affirmed capitalized on a small field of seven in the Preakness, taking the lead by the first turn. Alydar started sixth and made his move approaching the final turn.

“The good thing was that it was a small field and I was able to slow the pace down and relax Affirmed,” Cauthen said. “Basically we were sitting there waiting for Alydar and luckily I had plenty of horse left when he got there.”

In an oft-repeated scene, Alydar collared Affirmed and strained to get past him, but Affirmed was relentless. He owned a half-length lead at the eighth pole and as hard as Alydar tried in that final furlong, he fell a neck shy at the wire. Believe It was 7 ½ lengths behind the two foes.

“The Preakness was the same old thing. I got to Affirmed, he opened up, we came back, but he beat us by a neck,” Velasquez said.

Score: Affirmed 6, Alydar 2

Given Affirmed’s commanding 6-2 lead in the rivalry, it might have been the fuel for Alydar’s connections to find easier competition for their 3-year-old. But Veitch believed that the mile and a half distance and a return to Belmont, where Alydar had posted his two wins over Affirmed, would turn the tables in the Belmont Stakes.

“With the wide, sweeping turns at Belmont, I felt I had the better hand,” Veitch said.

Cauthen was equally confident in his champion.

“Nobody knows going into the Belmont how their horse is going to handle the distance. They’ve never done it. You’re just guessing. But I knew heart wouldn’t be an issue,” Cauthen said. “Another advantage we had was Laz Barrera. I think one of the most amazing training jobs ever was when he got Bold Forbes to win the Belmont. That proved what a great trainer he was. He gave Affirmed long, slow works between the Preakness and Belmont. I don’t believe he worked him once in the three weeks. He was just trying to get him to relax. He knew Affirmed had enough speed. He made him a happy, healthy, fit and relaxed horse.”

ROUND NINE

The Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, June 10, 1978, Belmont Park

A crowd of 65,417 turned out at Belmont Park in hopes of seeing a third Triple Crown sweep in five years, but the mood was different this time. Unlike the years when Secretariat (1973) and Seattle Slew (1977) captured the Triple Crown, there was not a majority of fans anxious to see a coronation of greatness. The crowd’s rooting interests at Belmont was as evenly divided as the odds on the toteboard, with Affirmed a 3-5 favorite and Alydar at 6-5 in a field of 5.

“I wanted to jump out, slow down the race and dictate the pace,” Cauthen said.

When Affirmed led through a half-mile in a leisurely 50 seconds, it was mission accomplished for Cauthen. Velasquez, though, was not about to let Affirmed cruise along on the front end.

“The pace was so slow there was no way I could let him get away it, so I pulled Alydar out and went after Affirmed,” Velasquez said.

With about seven furlongs left, Velasquez put Alydar into gear and went after Affirmed. Only he didn’t catch Cauthen by surprise.

“You normally can’t hear the crowd during the race. You’re so focused and breathing heavily,” Cauthen said. “But that day on the backside, I heard the crowd and I knew Alydar was coming.”

Indeed he was.

Alydar quickly joined Affirmed from the outside and for the next seven furlongs, with the ultimate prize on the line, they remained locked together, picking up the pace with each furlong and embarking on a heroic duel that is widely considered the greatest in the sport’s long and proud history.

As the crowd grew even more frenzied with every stride, the two great horses turned into the stretch together, well clear of the other three starters. As they approached the 3/16ths pole, Alydar appeared to take a slim lead but fate kicked in when Velasquez moved Alydar so close to Affirmed that Cauthen could not whip his colt with his right hand.

“I could feel a slight amount of fatigue in Affirmed in the stretch and that worried me,” Cauthen said. “I thought to myself, ‘we’ll both have to dig deep today if we want to win this.’ I never hit him left-handed before that day, I never needed to. But in that moment, I knew I had to. That was the day. When I hit him left-handed, I think it shocked him and he dug in and all of a sudden we were back in front. Not by much, but enough. Once we were in front, Affirmed responded. It was like he was saying, ‘Yeah, I’ve got this. He’s not getting by me now.’ That tremendous will kicked in.”

For Velasquez, there was a sinking feeling when Affirmed mounted his final surge.

“I saw Steve hit him left-handed and I said, ‘Oh no, he’s coming back again,”’ Velasquez said. “And he beat me.”

Again.

True to his nature, Alydar continued to fight after Affirmed grabbed a slim lead in the final 100 yards, but the Belmont proved no different than the Preakness, or the Laurel Futurity, or the Belmont Futurity or the Hopeful.

Affirmed won by a head.

“The most satisfying thing is that we went into the race knowing that we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes, and we didn’t,” Cauthen said. “I don’t think Georgie and Alydar made any either. We were four inches good enough to win the Triple Crown. It was pure talent and greatness between two horses. You almost felt sorry that somebody had to lose, yet you also knew you were a part of something that was spectacular.”

Score: Affirmed 7, Alydar 2

After the Belmont, both sides pointed for the Travers and arrived at the race in different fashions.

Alydar, in his race before Travers, demolished older horses in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga, winning by 10 lengths over a field that included J.O. Tobin, who had handed Seattle Slew his first loss a year earlier.

Affirmed struggled in his Travers tune-up, trailing Sensitive Prince by eight lengths at one point before winning the Grade 3 Jim Dandy by a half-length.

“I was more confident going into the Travers than at any other time when we faced Affirmed,” Veitch said.

ROUND TEN

The Grade 1 Travers, Aug. 19, 1978, Saratoga

A record crowd of 50,122 turned out at Saratoga for the Mid-Summer Derby, hoping to see a replay of the Belmont and another epic battle between the two arch-rivals.

What they saw was soaked in controversy.

Cauthen could not ride in the Travers due to a knee injury and Pincay was brought in to replace him.

With a field of four, the expectation was for a two-horse showdown, but it was the overmatched longshot Shake Shake Shake who had a major impact on the outcome.

Ridden by Cordero, Shake Shake Shake battled for the lead while racing inside of Affirmed, a few paths off the rail.

Determine to make a decisive move on the backstretch, Velasquez sent Alydar into the opening on the rail at the same time as Affirmed put away Shake Shake Shake. As Pincay cleared the longshot, he guided Affirmed toward the rail, where he cut off the onrushing Alydar.

Velasquez stood in the irons and yanked back the reins on Alydar in an abrupt manner that prompted track announcer Chic Anderson to say Alydar was being pulled up.

“I saw an opening and said I was going through it. (Pincay) didn’t realize how fast I was moving and that we had gotten to that spot. I know he didn’t do it on purpose. He just misjudged how fast Alydar was moving,” Velasquez said.

Alydar fell back to third as Affirmed drew clear.  The Calumet star took a run at Affirmed in the stretch, but trailed by 1 ¾ lengths at the finish.

Only this time, the horse that crossed the wire first was not the winner. The stewards stepped in and disqualified Affirmed to second, declaring Alydar the winner.

Score: Affirmed 7, Alydar 3.

Veitch gained no satisfaction from the manner of victory and looked forward to tackling Affirmed and Seattle Slew in Belmont Park’s fall classics, but fate intervened. Alydar suffered a hairline fracture of the coffin bone of the left front foot in a Sept. 11 workout, ending his season.

Knowing how important Alydar was to Calumet, Veitch did his best to return the colt to top form in 1979, but the son of Raise of Native was not the same horse at four. He won just two of six starts that year and was retired after a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Suburban on July 4.

His career and racing’s greatest rivalry was over.

But the memories lived on for everyone who watched it or was fortunate enough to be involved in it.

“When the Belmont was over, I realized what an impression these horses had made on the racing public and even casual fans,” Veitch said. “People who weren’t even fans of the sport would come up to me and say it was the greatest thing they had ever seen in any sport. They would say it had to be a wonderful thing to be a part of it and that’s exactly what it was.

“There was never any hostility between the people associated with either horse and at the end, Lou Wolfson, who was a great gentleman and sportsman, wrote a wonderful letter to Lucille Markey and the Admiral thanking them for Alydar and what their rivalry did for the sport that he and the Markeys loved and cherished.

“There was no bitter-sweetness about it. I am so proud to have been a part of that rivalry with a great horse like Alydar and to have faced a great champion such as Affirmed. I’ve won some great races and trained some great horses but Alydar and Affirmed will always be in the base of my heart.”

Alydar and Affirmed.

There’s that word again – AND. The one small word that powerfully explains the unbridled excitement  two great rivals gave horse racing as well as why another duo will be so very hard pressed to match them.

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