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A FIRM BID FOR THE TRIPLE CROWN
William Leggett
May 29, 1978
Kentucky Derby winner Affirmed got the challenge he expected from Alydar in the Preakness, but he was more than up to it. Now only the Belmont is left in his quest for U.S. racing's greatest—and its most elusive—prize
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May 29, 1978

A Firm Bid For The Triple Crown

Kentucky Derby winner Affirmed got the challenge he expected from Alydar in the Preakness, but he was more than up to it. Now only the Belmont is left in his quest for U.S. racing's greatest—and its most elusive—prize

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While Barrera was back in his barn, the stands and infield at Pimlico were packed and there were long lines at the advance betting windows. Two early arrivals plunked down $60,000 on Affirmed to win.

When Barrera heard of the advance betting, he whistled. "That's crazy," he said. "Anything can happen. Once in Mexico City there was a three-horse entry and the horses figured to finish 1-2-3. People placed big bets on the entry because you got all three horses running for you for the same price. The gate opens up and two horses in the entry slam together and fall down and the third horse stumbles over the two on the ground."

The start of the Preakness wasn't nearly as eventful. Track Reward, a horse entering his third race in 17 days, came out of the gate quickest, but Alydar broke very well and so did Affirmed. At the first turn, Cauthen noticed Track Reward drifting out a little and sent Affirmed into the lead. Even though the track was fast, Cauthen eased Affirmed through the first three-quarters of a mile in 1:11[4/5], the slowest first six-furlong time in the Preakness in six years.

Alydar made his run around the last turn, moving up with a tremendous drive on the outside to come extremely close to Affirmed approaching the top of the stretch. "I think I got to within a head of him," jockey Jorge Velasquez said later, "but no closer. Affirmed just wouldn't be passed."

All the way to the wire the two wonderful 3-year-olds battled, never more than half a length apart—but with Affirmed always ahead. The winner's time for the 1[3/16] miles was 1:54[2/5], which equaled that of the last two Triple Crown winners, Secretariat and Seattle Slew, but was short of Canonero II's track record time of 1:54 set in 1971. Cauthen also had enough horse left to finish the last [3/16] of a mile in 18[1/5] seconds. Only Little Current (1974) ever ran that quickly at the end of a Preakness.

It had been a stunning, dramatic ending, one as crushing for Veitch as it was invigorating for Barrera. An hour and a half after the race, Veitch was seated on the wooden fence outside the stakes barn. "Do I think that Affirmed has broken Alydar's heart because he has beaten him six out of the eight times the two have met?" he said in answer to a question. "No. Not with a horse like Alydar. He's just too good. This Preakness was an exceptional race, and Alydar got beaten only by a neck. In racing, necks have a way of changing around from one week to the next, and three weeks from now in the Belmont Alydar could have his neck in front. There isn't a thing in the world for Alydar to be ashamed of."

Woody Stephens, the trainer of Believe It, who came in third, summed up his feeling about running against Affirmed and Alydar. "I tried them in the Derby and Preakness," he said, "and that's enough for me. I'm going to wherever they ain't. In the Derby, Believe It was beaten by less than three lengths; in the Preakness, it was nearly eight. So long, Affirmed. Bye-bye Alydar."

And maybe for everyone but Affirmed and Alydar, bye-bye Belmont.

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