There was far more at stake last Saturday than honor or even the winner's share of $225,000. Affirmed's value at stud had already been established with his syndication, but Spectacular Bid's had not. In fact, his worth had plunged dramatically after the loss in the Belmont. Combs says he arrived at that race carrying in his pocket a check for $10 million—half the $20 million that Combs thought Bid would be worth if he won. He never made the down payment. After the Belmont, Combs estimates, Spectacular Bid's value was $12 million—a drop of $8 million in less than 2� minutes. Bid's connections came to the Gold Cup hoping to recoup the loss. Seth Hancock, the head of Claiborne Farm, which will syndicate and stand the colt at stud, said before the Gold Cup that Bid would be worth $16 to $20 million if he won the race, between $12 and $15 million if he lost. Such were the stakes that Bid's owners, Harry, Teresa and Tom Meyerhoff, were playing for last Saturday.
Pincay and Barrera also were playing a numbers game. A win would push Pincay's purses this year past Darrel McHargue's single-season jockey record of $6,188,353, set in 1978. When the day ended, Pincay had earned $6,384,568. Barrera, meanwhile, broke his single-season trainers' record of $3,314,564 for purses, also set last year; he finished the day with $3,368,548. As for Affirmed, his career earnings are $2,393,818.
Barrera sensed the victory the instant the gates sprang open and Affirmed leaped forward. He was a full neck in front just two jumps out of the gate. "When he breaks like that," Laz says, "you can put the beans on the fire and you know you're gonna eat for sure."
Gallant Best, who filled out the four-horse field, raced to the front, taking the lead from the favored Affirmed going into the first turn and Pincay refused to rush his mount a step. As they made the bend, galloping through the first quarter in the buggy-horse time of 25 seconds, Affirmed ranged up and assumed the lead. Turning into the backside, through a casual opening half in 49 seconds, Shoemaker sensed the softness of the pace. He made a move, but Pincay let out a notch and Affirmed drew away. They raced down the straight that way—Affirmed in front, Bid right behind. Midway through the backstretch, Shoemaker asked Spectacular Bid again, sending him up to challenge. Once more Affirmed surged forward. He had a length lead as they came to the turn. Nearing the three-eighths pole, Shoemaker sent Bid to Affirmed's side, but Affirmed dug in a third time. For an instant, Shoemaker thought Bid had chucked the bit and given up. He started to fall back. And suddenly, on the inside, Coastal came charging through the gap. He drew even with Affirmed, perhaps getting a nose in front, but this is Affirmed's game, the part of it he seems to relish the most. Affirmed snatched the lead back as they headed into the stretch.
Suddenly Coastal excused himself, and at once Shoemaker and the Bid battled back, with Shoemaker riding frantically, coming to within half a length of Affirmed as the two horses raced past the eighth pole. Now Pincay drew his stick. With his whipping and hand-riding, Affirmed stretched out and drove for the wire. He pulled away in the final 100 yards to win by three-quarters of a length.
Four times Bid had tried to get by Affirmed, and four times had been beaten back, the final agonizing time as the two colts ran for the wire. In the box seats, the Wolfsons and Barrera embraced. "Once my horse went to the lead, I knew the party was over," Barrera said. It actually ended back at the barn, with Alaniz fitting the colt with the bandages and Doc Belden sitting on a bucket and staring into the stall and Barrera walking into the shed to say good night. "Look at him," Laz said. "It look like he don't even run. He knows he's a champion. No horse can look like that and not be a champion." Then Larry Barrera reached in and flipped off the light.