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Old Foes, New Race
William Nack
June 08, 1987
Alydar and Affirmed, once fierce opponents, compete now in the breeding shed
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June 08, 1987

Old Foes, New Race

Alydar and Affirmed, once fierce opponents, compete now in the breeding shed

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Tukoman ('82)


An Empress ('83)


Alysheba ('84)


Persevered ('84)


Althea ('81)


Affirmance ('82)


Miss Oceana ('81)


Claude Monet ('81)


I'm Sweets ('83)


Regal State ('83)


Endear ('82)


Lovelier ('84)


Talinum ('84)


Barbarina ('83)


Red Attack ('82)


Cap Badgett ('81)


Saratoga Six ('82)


One From Heaven ('84)


Buckley Boy ('82)


An Affirmation ('83)


Source:The Thoroughbred Record

In those final stirring yards of the Preakness Stakes on May 16, as Alysheba burst past Bet Twice to win the second jewel of racing's Triple Crown by half a length, there was no escaping the palpable sense of déjà vu.

There was Alysheba, the victor in the Kentucky Derby, driving to the wire with Bet Twice a close second, just as he had been in the Kentucky Derby. Nine years earlier, Alysheba's sire, Alydar, had suffered precisely the same fate as Bet Twice. Two weeks after finishing second to Affirmed in the '78 Derby, Alydar had failed by a neck to run him down in the Preakness. This Saturday, when Alysheba and Bet Twice have at each other again in the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes, the Triple Crown victory that barely eluded the father will be the son's to take.

Not that these four horses, by the way, should in any way be equated. Alysheba and Bet Twice are competent enough as racehorses, but Affirmed and Alydar are among the most talented horses ever to grace the American turf. Born most any other year, Alydar would have won the Triple Crown. Instead he will go down as perhaps the greatest also-ran in history, the only horse ever to finish second in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

Alydar and Affirmed turned 12 this year, and they are aging as gracefully as they once ran and doing it together these days, at Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky., the Bluegrass State's most famous thoroughbred nursery. Even in the distance, the shape of Alydar's head and the color of that coat, a lustrously rich, dark chestnut, remain unmistakable. J.T. Lundy, the president of Calumet, drapes his arms over a board of the white fence and motions to the horse nibbling grass about 75 yards away. Alydar stands in the valley of his three-acre paddock. He was nearer the main highway until a few years ago, when Lundy received a death threat on the horses at Calumet. The note said, "If you don't pay us $500,000, we're going to start shooting your horses." The FBI arrested two suspects in the case, but Lundy remains understandably concerned about his horses, especially his most prized possession.

"He hangs around under that tree most of the time," Lundy says. "A beautiful horse. I really was disappointed that he didn't go on in those three Triple Crown races and beat Affirmed, but he was doing all he could. He showed a lot of heart. And you have to give Affirmed credit—he was such a good horse that Alydar just couldn't beat him, just couldn't get by the son of a gun."

And just where is that old son of a gun?

"Affirmed's right over there," says Lundy. As Alydar strolls closer, Lundy takes off, walking briskly to another paddock just 100 feet away. Affirmed appears suddenly, then stops and poses like a statue in the bright Kentucky sun, with that familiar white stripe running down his face and that burnished chestnut coat—a shade lighter and shinier, like a new penny to Alydar's old.

"Affirmed's got as good a balance as I ever saw on a horse," Lundy says. "Nothing stands out as being out of proportion. Look at his legs. Both these horses ran all those races and their legs aren't all beat up and broke up. Affirmed here is a very good breeder, not a problem horse at all, but he does have one quirk. When he's in the paddock, and a bird gets in there, he'll go after that bird with his mouth and try to catch it, running after it."

Affirmed comes over and visits politely at the fence. Moments later, as Alydar finally reaches the corner of his paddock, he stops and looks in Affirmed's direction, his head up and his ears pricked, and for an instant they are seen together once again, frozen in space and time.

Almost nine years ago—at 5:45 p.m. on June 10, 1978—the two 3-year-old colts turned for home at Belmont and began charging through the upper stretch together, their necks stretched and their legs pounding. In the late afternoon shadows, running almost as if harnessed to the same chariot, they seemed like two heroic figures in some ancient myth.

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