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Friday, January 12, 2001
A look back at racing's greatest rivalry

By Bob Ehalt
Daily Racing Form

Boxing had Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Basketball had the Celtics and Lakers.

In horse racing, it was Affirmed and Alydar.

Affirmed
Affirmed, with Steve Cauthen up, romps ahead of Alydar to win the 1978 Preakness Stakes.
The rivalry between the brilliant colts Affirmed and Alydar lasted only slightly more than a year, yet their 10 head-to-head battles produced the kind of drama that will no doubt last several lifetimes.

So fierce was their competition that even today, more than 22 years after their final clash in the 1978 Travers, it's still difficult to say one of their names without the other.

Affirmed and Alydar. As inseparable in history now as they were in June of 1978 when Affirmed hit the wire a head in front of Alydar to win the Belmont Stakes and become Thoroughbred racing's 11th - and still most recent - Triple Crown winner.

Affirmed was put down Friday at the age of 26. Alydar, the measuring stick of Affirmed's greatness, died much earlier, in Nov. 1990 after breaking his leg in his stall.

Though both are gone, those 10 races, seven of which were won by Affirmed, still represent the best of the emotion and drama that gives racing such an addictive flavor. Here's a look back at those 10 races:

Youthful Stakes
June 15, 1977 at Belmont Park
What would be the mighty oak of a rivalry started with the humble roots of the $37,000 Youthful Stakes. An unraced Calumet Farm homebred named Alydar was sent off as the $1.80-1 favorite, but would run into traffic problems and finish fifth.

The winner was Harbor View Farm's Affirmed who battled for the early lead and then outdueled Wood Native to win by a neck.

Score:  Affirmed 1, Alydar 0

Great American Stakes
July 6, 1977 at Belmont Park
After Alydar broke his maiden for trainer John Veitch by 6 3/4 lengths, the public was certain he would avenge his defeat at the hands of Affirmed. Sent off a 4-5 favorite, Alydar let Affirmed grab the early lead but then powered past him on the turn to draw off to a 3 1/2-length victory.

Score: Alydar 1, Affirmed 1

Hopeful Stakes
Aug. 27, 1977 at Saratoga
While Affirmed and Alydar met twice before, interest in the Hopeful swelled because of their dominance over the rest of the year's 2-year-old crop.

Both Alydar and Affirmed came into the Hopeful with four wins in five starts, but when it was over Affirmed had his fifth victory.

Affirmed pressed the pace, then turned back a stretch bid by Alydar to win by a half-length in what would prove to be a recurring scenario.

Score: Affirmed 2, Alydar 1

Futurity Stakes
Sept. 10, 1977 at Belmont Park
The longer, seven furlong distance of the Futurity seemed an advantage for Alydar. It wasn't.

Though the two foes were lapped on each other at the quarter pole, Alydar could not wear down Affirmed. While Alydar was in front by a head at the eighth pole, Affirmed, under jockey Steve Cauthen, would not wilt and hit the wire first by a nose.

Score: Affirmed 3, Alydar 1

Champagne Stakes
Oct. 15, 1977 at Belmont Park
The distance this time was a mile.

Advantage Alydar.

With jockey Jorge Velasquez riding Alydar for the first time, Alydar waited until the final furlong to go after Affirmed and blew past him to win by 1 1/4 lengths.

Score: Affirmed 3, Alydar 2

Laurel Futurity
Oct. 29, 1977 at Laurel Park
So impressive was Alydar's triumph in the Champagne that the betting public made him a 2-5 favorite.

The Laurel Futurity, however, turned out to be a replay of the Belmont Futurity.

Eschewing the tactics that were so successful in the Champagne, Alydar again hooked Affirmed after the opening half-mile but could not put him away.

The two waged a fierce war in the stretch but in the end it was Affirmed by a neck at the wire in a victory that was described as a "long, hard drive" in the Daily Racing Form.

Besides giving Affirmed a 4-2 edge over Alydar, the Laurel Futurity wrapped up the 2-year-old championship for Affirmed and heightened the belief that the 1978 Triple Crown would be something special.

Score: Affirmed 4, Alydar 2

Kentucky Derby
May 6, 1978 at Churchill Downs
Alydar took the southern route to Churchill Downs, winning the Flamingo and Florida Derby before posting a monstrous 13-length victory in the Blue Grass.

Affirmed, meanwhile, prepped for the Derby in California, strolling to victory by a combined 12 lengths in the Hollywood Derby, Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe.

On Derby Day, Affirmed was a 6-5 favorite, with Affirmed right behind at 9-5.

No one else was close in the betting - or at the wire.

Using his superior early speed, Affirmed was no worse than third at any call and by the eighth pole was home free with a two-length lead.

Alydar fell far back early, trailing by 17 lengths at the first call, and though he made up 2 1/2 lengths in the final furlong it was a case of too little as too late as Affirmed won by 1 1/2 lengths.

Score: Affirmed 5, Alydar 2

Preakness Stakes
May 20, 1978 at Pimlico Stakes
In the Preakness, the betting public finally warmed to Affirmed and made him the 1-2 favorite.

On a track conducive to frontruners, Affirmed toyed with 88-1 shot Track Reward on the front end and turned for home with a length lead over Noon Time Spender, Believe It, and, of course, Alydar.

In the stretch, the Preakness turned into yet another two-horse duel between Alydar and Affirmed. Alydar moved to within a half-length of Affirmed at the eighth pole, but, again, Affirmed would not let him go past.

At the wire, it was Affirmed by a neck.

Two thirds of the Triple Crown down; one to go.

Score: Affirmed 6, Alydar 2

Belmont Stakes
June 10, 1978 at Belmont Stakes
Three other horses ran in the 1978 Belmont but the race belonged to Alydar and Affirmed.

This time, the Calumet team was determined not to let Affirmed have an easy time of it on the lead. So early on the backstretch of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, Velasquez moved Alydar abreast of Affirmed.

What took place afterwards was arguably the greatest horse race of all-time.

Around the sweeping final turn of Belmont Park, Affirmed and Alydar raced thisclose in a struggle neither seemed intent on losing.

Seemingly attached by velcro, neither could establish much of an edge as they turned into the stretch, greeted by a deafening roar from the throng of 65,417 fans on-hand.

Midway through the stretch, it appeared that Alydar stuck his nose in front. But if he did, it was for just a brief, fleeting moment.

As hard as Alydar ran, Affirmed was able to resist each and every challenge and won the race - and the Triple Crown - by a head in an unforgettable test of courage and stamina.

Score: Affirmed 7, Alydar 2

Travers Stakes
Aug. 19, 1978 at Saratoga
Even after sweeping the Triple Crown, Affirmed still could not distance himself from Alydar.

After Alydar beat older colts by 10 lengths in the Whitney, the notion was that Alydar would upend Affirmed in the Mid-summer Derby, the Travers.

The Travers proved to be the final meeting between Affirmed and Alydar and it generated the most controversy.

Down the backstretch, in order to move clear of the overmatched Shake Shake Shake, jockey Laffit Pincay, subbing for Cauthen, moved Affirmed toward the rail, shutting off Alydar.

Velasquez was forced to take up sharply on Alydar, and though the Calumet colt was able to regenerate a strong head of steam, it wasn't enough.

Affirmed crossed the wire 1 3/4 lengths in front of Alydar. Then the stewards stepped in and reversed the order of finish.

The Travers, the final battle, went to Alydar, but the war clearly belonged to Affirmed.

Final score: Affirmed 7, Alydar 3