The race of the decade had suddenly become the race of the year, if that—a Belmont Stakes revisited with the addition of some fine older horses. And there arose in New York hurricane David, both of them. One rained, the other roared. David Whiteley, the trainer of Coastal, figured his only chance to win would be if Bid and Affirmed got locked in an early speed duel, one never letting the other get away. That would set the race up for a stretch runner like Coastal.
"It's unsportsmanlike," Whiteley said of the decision not to run Affirmed. "If you have any backbone and consideration for racing, you run the horse. They've had it pretty easy. The horse is obviously at his best. He went past Forego and Kelso in money-winning. If he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with them, he ought to do a little bit of what they did."
Which is to carry weight against all comers and not shy from adversity. But the nine-pound spread was too much, Barrera said. His main fear was that Affirmed would have to run every step of the nine furlongs, because the distance is run around only one sweeping turn and does not permit a horse a breather. He questioned how much horse he would have left for the upcoming Woodward Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup, both weight-for-age races in which Affirmed would have to carry only 126 pounds to Bid's 121.
"I had to make a decision," Barrera says. "I represent Affirmed; I train Affirmed; I love Affirmed. I think I am doing the right thing for Affirmed. People think he has to run and run and run to be champion. He can't pass one race?"
Delp said he could not fault the man. "He's afraid of my horse," Delp claimed. "He's got reason. I'd be afraid too."
The debate that grew out of Barrera's decision was a lively one. It also raised the old issue of whether there should be such things as handicaps. "This is the only major sport that handicaps its stars," said trainer Roger Laurin. "Do they tell Jack Nicklaus he has to give three a side? Would that be fair? Would they make Babe Ruth swing a bat five pounds heavier? "
Others thought as trainer John Russell did. "I can understand how Laz feels about his horse," he said. "He has a romance with him. But if every time a guy scratched his champion because he thought he had too much weight, we wouldn't get a chance to see too many champions."
By post time last Saturday, the debate had subsided, and all that remained was for Bid to do his number. He did it superbly, leaving only the unanswered question of what might have happened had Affirmed been in the field. "Instead of putting The Shoe on Bid," quipped Jacinto Vasquez, General Assembly's rider, "Delp should have put another pin in him."
The victory, worth $180,000, pushed Bid's 3-year-old earnings ($962,183) past Affirmed's of last year. "I was aware of that," said Harry Meyerhoff. "Like Lincoln, I write things on the backs of envelopes."
And now it is on to the 1�-mile Woodward, if Bid recovers well from the Marlboro. If he passes the Woodward, he and Affirmed would meet in the Gold Cup at a mile and a half, the only distance at which Bid has lost this year. "If Affirmed stays in his stall, I'm Horse of the Year," said Delp. "He'd better come out of his stall. I'm looking forward to running against him. I wish he'd been out there today. He'd have gone to the front, opened two lengths, and Bid would have gone after him at the half-mile pole. Then we hook up and run home. I think the result would have been the same. We danced a big dance today. We danced one dance; maybe we should let him dance one alone in the Woodward. Meet him in the Gold Cup. Mile and a half's no problem. The pin beat him in the Belmont. I'm gonna prove it in the Gold Cup. I'm gonna prove it."