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Monday, July 31
Affirmed the last to wear the Crown

Every spring, on the first Saturday in May, one Thoroughbred will wear the blanket of roses in the winner's circle after the Kentucky Derby (G1). Yet of the many horses in American racing who have tried, only 11 have also gone on to win the Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1), writing their names in the record books as Triple Crown winners.

It's been 25 years since Affirmed won the Triple Crown.
Now a quarter century has slipped by without a Triple Crown, but fittingly, the last horse to accomplish this challenging feat was a Florida-bred by the name of Affirmed.

Foaled February 21, 1975, Affirmed was bred and owned by Louis and Patrice Wolfson's Harbor View Farm. Louis Wolfson had been a fan of racing long before he bought his first horse in the late '50s. Raised in Jacksonville, Wolfson bought several hundred acres near Ocala in 1959 and christened the new farm Harbor View.

The daughter of Hall of Fame trainer Hirsch Jacobs and prominent owner and breeder Ethel D. Jacobs, Patrice's passion for Thoroughbreds came naturally. Hall of Fame runner Stymie, raced in her mother's name during the '40s and was trained by her father. Before her marriage to Wolfson, Patrice Jacobs had raced stakes winners Hail to Reason and Regal Gleam.

Among the champions that have carried the flamingo pink and black silks of Harbor View Farm into the history books are Raise a Native, Champion Two-Year-Old Colt in 1963; Florida-bred Roman Brother, 1965 Horse of the Year and Champion Older Horse in 1965; Florida-bred It's In the Air, co-Champion Two-Year-Old Filly 1978; Outstandingly, Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in 1984; Adored (campaigned with Mrs. Ethel D. Jacobs); Flawlessly, Champion Turf Female in 1992 and 1993; and of course, homebred Affirmed.

Harbor View Farm was leading money-winning owner in 1978, 1979 and 1980, and also led all owners in wins in 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1979. Harbor View was North America's leading breeder in 1970 and 1971, and won an Eclipse Award in 1978 as outstanding owner.

Affirmed was from the sixth crop of Exclusive Native, a major stakes winner at two and three. In 1978, even before Affirmed's Belmont win, Exclusive Native was North America's leading sire. He had sired the winners of over $1-million for the calendar year (1978) prior to the end of May, an unprecedented accomplishment for a stallion.

Affirmed was out of Won't Tell You, a daughter of Crafty Admiral, which Wolfson purchased with the intention of breeding to Exclusive Native. As a broodmare, Won't Tell You was a solid producer, the dam of 13 reported foals, nine of which were winners. In addition to Affirmed, her sixth foal, she produced stakes winners Silent Fox, Love You Dear and Won't She Tell.

Recalling a Champion

"As a foal, it was so easy to do anything with him," says Patrice Wolfson, fondly recalling her champion. "Just sitting on the fence and watching him, there was something about his personality that was different. He'd work his way through the other foals to come up to me. And all through his racing career he loved to put his head in my arms when we'd come by his stall. You don't usually see this with a young colt."

Wolfson remembers that Affirmed reacted differently around the various people in his life, just as a person would, and she related this to his high intelligence.

At the time of the 1978 Triple Crown races, jockey Steve Cauthen was just 18 years old. After a successful career in both America and Europe, Cauthen retired from riding at the end of 1992. He has since developed two properties he purchased in the late 1970s, Dreamfields Farm, a breeding farm and Dreamfields Training Center, both located in Verona, Kentucky.

Affirmed made a lasting impression on young Cauthen. "My relationship with him was on his back and when I was up there, I knew he knew me. He was a super intelligent horse, smart and willing," he said. "Very few horses have the ability, physically or mentally, that you can switch them on or off more than once in a race if necessary, but Affirmed was like that. He was very maneuverable."

Cauthen recalls that there were only a couple of occasions when he really had to call on Affirmed for everything the horse had. That was in the Belmont and also in the Jim Dandy (G3), when the colt had to dig in and make up a great deal of ground to win.

The Legend Unfolds

After Affirmed's first start, which he won easily, he won the Youthful Stakes, while Alydar finished fifth. It was the only time they would finish so far apart. Alydar won the next round in the Great American Stakes, and when they met at Saratoga, in the Hopeful Stakes (G1), Affirmed prevailed. The Belmont Futurity (G1) ended in a photo finish, with Affirmed declared the winner, but Alydar later found revenge on a muddy track in the Champagne (G1). Affirmed clinched honors as Champion Two-Year-Old Colt when he defeated Alydar in the Laurel Futurity-G1. Affirmed began his three-year-old season by winning a 6-1/2 furlong allowance race on March 8. Ten days later he won the San Felipe Handicap-G2 by two lengths, and at the end of March, won the Santa Anita Derby-G1 by eight lengths.

Affirmed's final prep race for the Kentucky Derby would be the Hollywood Derby-G1 in mid-April. There was some talk that this might have been a mistake on Barrera's part, that past Derby winners who had raced the early part of their three-year-old seasons in California still shipped East to contest at least one race before the Run for the Roses.

Affirmed won the 1-1/8 mile Hollywood Derby-G1 by two lengths, then on April 23, the chestnut colt left California for a date with destiny in Louisville.

The Kentucky Derby

Although bred in Florida, Affirmed had made a reputation for himself winning in California, and the Calumet Farm-bred Alydar represented the Blue Grass State. Both colts came into the Kentucky Derby unbeaten in four starts at three.

Before a crowd of more than 131,000, 11 horses went to the post for the 104th Kentucky Derby-G1. Starting from the Number 10 hole, Alydar went off as the favorite. Affirmed drew the Number Two post position. Other solid contenders in the race were unbeaten Sensitive Prince, trained by Allen Jerkens, and the Woody Stephens-trained colt, Believe It.

After the start, the early speed belonged to Raymond Earl, while Sensitive Prince and Affirmed ran head and head in second place. Going into the first turn, Cauthen guided Affirmed to the outside and away from potential trouble when Sensitive Prince started to slightly crowd them.

Sensitive Prince took the lead from Raymond Earl, with Affirmed sitting pretty in third place as they rounded the clubhouse turn. At the far turn, Affirmed moved up on the outside as Sensitive Prince, after a blistering half-mile in :45 3/5, began to fade. As Affirmed took over the lead, Believe It made a strong move, but Affirmed managed to pull ahead by two lengths.

At the eighth pole, Alydar was flying on the outside, catching the tiring Believe It. Alydar made up a great deal of ground in the stretch, but it was Affirmed who crossed the wire first, the winner by 1-1/2 lengths. The time was 2:01 1/5, making it the fifth fastest Kentucky Derby in history.

The Preakness

Seven horses contested the 103rd Preakness Stakes-G1 which attracted a record crowd of 81,261. Affirmed drew the Number 6 position, while Alydar got the Number 3 hole. Believe It was in Number 2 post position.

Track Reward and Affirmed went for the early lead, but Alydar was racing much closer to the pace than he had in the Derby. On the backstretch Alydar was definitely in contention, and through the stretch turn he pulled up even with Affirmed. By this point, it was absolutely a two-horse race. But Affirmed would hang tough against his rival's game challenge and win by a neck. In third place, Believe It finished 7-1/2 lengths behind the leaders.

Their heart-stopping stretch run rewarded the enthusiastic crowd with the second fastest race in Preakness history. The time of 1:54 2/5 tied with Triple Crown champions Secretariat and Seattle Slew. The Belmont

Just five horses went to the post for the110th running of the Belmont Stakes-G1, Affirmed's bid to clinch the Triple Crown. In addition to Affirmed and Alydar, Darby Creek Road, Judge Advocate and Noon Time Spender were entered. The crowd of 65,417 made Affirmed the favorite at .60-to-1, with Alydar second choice at 1.10-to-1.

Judge Advocate delayed the start when he broke through his Number 4 post. He was immediately reloaded and the starter sent the field off. It was Affirmed away first, with Judge Advocate joining on the outside. Alydar raced close to the leaders in third. Both the opening and second quarters were run in a slow 25 seconds each.

At the half-mile, Alydar had moved up into second place and by about the 6-1/2 furlong marker, Jorge Velasquez and Alydar had moved alongside Cauthen and Affirmed. The third quarter was run in :24 and the fourth quarter followed in :23 2/5.

With Alydar on the outside and Affirmed on the inside, the two colts hit the top of the stretch together. At the three-sixteenths pole Alydar got a nose in front. Velasquez was leaving Cauthen no room to whip right handed. (Cauthen would later say the only time he had seen Affirmed hit left handed was when Cordero had the mount in the Great American Stakes, and the colt had lost the race.) With no other choice, Cauthen went to his whip left-handed with about a sixteenth-mile to go. Both Velasquez and Cauthen were riding hard, driving their colts to the finish, with neither horse letting up. The "photo finish" sign flashed as the two horses hit the wire, but Cauthen, his left arm raised in a victory salute, already knew the outcome.

Before these two classic rivals, no horse in Belmont history had turned in a speedier final half-mile: 49 2/5. Final time for the 1 1/2 mile race was 2:26 4/5. It was soon official: racing had its 11th Triple Crown Winner.

Twenty five years later, Cauthen remembers that historic afternoon. "I knew we'd won, but it was to the last stride. I can't think of any moment that gave me any more thrill or satisfaction and I had many great moments, riding in Europe and America. We were at center stage and pulled it off."

Patrice Wolfson's memories of the race are still vivid, despite the passing of time. "There were other unbelievable races, but I would have to say nothing could ever touch the Belmont because you only get one chance at the Triple Crown. Looking back now, it just makes you realize how hard it is." Two-Time Horse of the Year

The epic rivalry between Affirmed and Alydar continued when they met for the final time in the Travers Stakes-G1, although the race outcome was somewhat anti-climactic. Laffit Pincay Jr. had the mount on Affirmed as Cauthen was injured. When Alydar moved up to Affirmed on the turn, Affirmed and Pincay cut off the Calumet colt, forcing Velasquez to sharply check his mount. Although Affirmed finished first, he was disqualified to second for interfering with Alydar.

As a three year old, Affirmed started 11 times, earning $901,541, then a record for a single year. Eight of those races ended in victory for the Harbor View homebred. The Triple Crown winner earned honors as Champion Three-Year-Old Colt and Horse of the Year in 1978.

Fortunately for racing fans, the Wolfsons decided to continue racing their champion as a four year old. After losing his first several races at four, Affirmed once again regained his winning form in the Charles S. Strub Stakes-G1 and wouldn't lose again before retiring. He captured the Santa Anita Handicap-G1, setting a track record of 1:58 3/5 for 1-1/4 miles. Affirmed carried 130 pounds when he won the Californian Stakes-G1, and became the first $2-million earner after his victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup-G1. In the Woodward-G1, Affirmed dropped back and looked to be in trouble, then sprinted to victory past Coastal and Czaravich.

"A good horse makes him run," Louis Wolfson once said of his champion colt and that was exactly what happened when Affirmed met Spectacular Bid in the 61st running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1. With this victory, Affirmed became the first horse to earn $1-million in a single season.

Horse of the Year for the second time, and Champion Handicap Horse in 1979, Affirmed retired at the end of his four-year-old season with career earnings of $2,393,818, at the time more than any Thoroughbred in history. In 29 lifetime starts, this exceptional colt had 22 wins (14 of these were grade one races), five seconds and one third; only once did he finish off the board.

Breeding Career

In 1980, Affirmed started his breeding career at Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, standing his initial season for $80,000. He was elected to the Hall of Fame that same year. Affirmed was later moved to Calumet Farm where, ironically, he occupied a paddock adjacent to his former rival, Alydar. In 1992, at the age of 16, Affirmed moved to Jonabell Farm, now known as Darley at Jonabell. (Darley Stud Management purchased Jonabell in October 2001.)

Affirmed stood at Jonabell until his death on January 12, 2001, at the age of 26, when he was humanely put to sleep due to musculoskeletal problems relating to the infirmities of advancing age. He was buried next to the stallion complex at Jonabell, now known as Darley at Jonabell.

"One thing about Affirmed, you can't forget him as a racehorse because those qualities that made him a great racehorse gave him almost human-like characteristics," recalls Jimmy Bell, who worked closely with Affirmed during the years he stood at Jonabell. "He had a distinct and profound personality and was very understanding. He was like a friend in that you really felt like you could relate to him. When you stopped at his stall, he had 'command presence.' He was a great horse to have had the privilege and honor to stand. He's the benchmark from which to measure the young horses coming in."

At the time of his death Affirmed had sired 19 crops of racing age which had earned $40,762,855. At the time, he was sired 77 stakes winners; among these were numerous champions, including Flawlessly champion grass mare in 1992 and 1993; Quiet Resolve, Canadian Horse of the Year; and Peteski, winner of the 1993 Canadian Triple Crown.

"He'll go down in history as a broodmare sire," Wolfson notes. "His fillies have been great." She adds that a bronze of Affirmed is now being completed, which will be erected on his gravesite.

The Wolfsons sold Harbor View Farm in 1977, but remained active in the racing business for many years. Today they reside in Bal Harbor, Florida, and no longer participate in racing. Appropriately enough, the one broodmare they still own is a daughter of Affirmed.

Now, for the first time in history, the world is left without a living Triple Crown winner. But those who knew him will never forget the last Triple Crown champion.

"Affirmed had an aura about him. He knew who he was and what he did," remembers Jimmy Bell. "The word 'special' is trite and over-used, but that's what he was."

Steve Cauthen visited Affirmed several times at each of the farms where he stood, and last saw his old racing partner when Affirmed was 25, the spring before he died. "He had an infectious personality you were attracted to. He knew he was a champion and didn't have to pretend."

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

At only one other point in history have 25 years passed without a Triple Crown winner -- between Citation's triumph in 1948 and Secretariat's in 1973. Proving just how difficult the feat is, since Affirmed's Triple Crown in 1978, eight horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but fallen short of victory in the Belmont Stakes. A total of 46 horses have won two of the three Triple Crown races since 1877, but only 16 of these had won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and were actually in contention for the Triple Crown.

(sidebar) John Veitch Looks Back - A Trainer Fondly Remembers a Rival

If his star runner had been born in a different foal crop, chances were, John Veitch would have been the trainer of a Triple Crown champion. But the year was 1978 and instead Veitch became the first trainer in history to saddle the horse that ran second in each of the Triple Crown races.

Today, Veitch operates a public stable and is based at Belmont Park. He graciously took time for a phone interview recently while on the road at Oaklawn Park.

At the time of the 1978 Triple Crown, Veitch was just 32, the youngest trainer ever to train for the distinguished Calumet Farm. "It was tremendous thing to be part of something that is so fondly remembered by so many people," says Veitch. "It was also very disappointing. It would have been nice to have won, although the Markeys (of Calumet Farm) were elated just to have a horse like Alydar. Most trainers go through their entire lives and never get the opportunity to work with a horse of this quality."

Talented as he was, Alydar's main hindrance to beating Affirmed was that he was a "one run horse," Veitch recalls. "Affirmed dictated the terms in almost every race we ran in and that in itself was a distinct disadvantage. It's like going into a fight and your opponent gets in the first punch."

Going into the Triple Crown races, Veitch believed Alydar had an excellent chance to beat Affirmed, although history would soon prove otherwise. The celebrated rivalry between the two colts is still considered one of the greatest in racing legend.

"It did then and always will take a special horse to win the Triple Crown," says Veitch, "and certainly, Affirmed was that horse. We just have not had that special horse come along since 1978."

Both Affirmed and Alydar were homebreds, by Harbor View Farm and Calumet Farm, respectively, and Veitch thinks this played a role in the horses' success on the racetrack.

"They were bred and raised to be racehorses. In those days, probably 75% of the horses in training were raised by people that planned to campaign them as racehorses. They were turned out in groups, ran and played rough, and it didn't matter if they got a scrape or bruise. Now, most are raised to be sold. We ask a tremendous amount of these horses from the physical standpoint and if they're not tough you can't expect them to last. You can't just toughen them up in six months.

When I was a kid, you'd see horses that would run three times in a month. They'd run 20 to 25 times a year and be there at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. We just don't have horses like this now. We' re raising softer, less professional racehorses. Both genetically and in the way they're raised, they're not physically as strong."

Yes, there will be another Triple Crown winner one day, Veitch reflects. "It will happen and there will be the horse that will get the job done, but I don't think we'll ever see another rivalry like Affirmed and Alydar. It was almost a mystical thing. Alydar and Affirmed were always consistent and delivered what they had, regardless of what track they were on."

(sidebar) Breaking Affirmed...the Early Days

Born in Fairfield, Florida, to parents Minnie Lee James and Gripper James, Melvin James was the seventh of 11 children. After graduating from high school, James went into the Army, but a broken arm resulted in an early honorable discharge. At 19, he got a job grooming horses at Harbor View Farm and gradually worked his way up to farm trainer. James remembers Affirmed from those early days at Harbor View more for what he didn't do. "He never did any more than was required. When we'd breeze horses, he'd win, but only by a neck. He wasn't a standout. He didn't do more than he needed to. That's the way he ran. The memorable thing about Affirmed was that he was very quiet, he was just a gentle horse. Laz (Barrera) had come to the training center and picked out some horses that he wanted, but he didn't pick Affirmed."

Recently, James thumbed through his old training books from Harbor View days, reading over his training notes on Affirmed. "He never got hurt, we never had any problems with him."

Affirmed's ability was quickly realized in a rather unexpected way. The chestnut colt, newly turned two years old, had shipped down to Hialeah. "Someone mixed him up with another older horse and the trainer sent him out to work with a stakes horse named Sparkling Native," James relates. "Affirmed worked better than Sparkling Native (beating him by a neck or so) and the trainer called Louis Wolfson to ask what older horse this was. So Mr. Wolfson called me and asked me to go to the track to identify him. They thought he was an older horse, but when I saw it was Affirmed, I told them, 'No, he's just a baby, just turned two.' That's when we knew we had a good horse. Mr. Wolfson put him on a plane and shipped him out to Laz in California."

James traveled to Belmont and was there to witness Affirmed's Triple Crown victory. It was the only one of Affirmed's races he saw in person.

After working for Harbor View Farm for 22 years, James worked at Mockingbird for two years, then went out training on his own for a number of years. In 1998, he started working at Doug Henderson's Marablue Farm, where he is farm trainer and assistant farm manager. There, he would like nothing better than to discover another quiet, laid-back colt with the hidden talents of a future classic winner like Affirmed.

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