Friday, August 27, 2010
My First Travers, or … Affirmed and Alydar’s Last Tango
After his Triple Crown glory, Affirmed had a little time off before prepping for the Travers in the Jim Dandy. On that day, he would require nearly every inch of the nine furlongs to catch the quality speedster Sensitive Prince only yards before the wire. Alydar meanwhile, picked up where he left off before his three heartbreaking losses to his Triple Crown rival. He traveled to Chicago and won the Arlington Classic by 13 lengths and then he dismantled good older horses in the Whitney Stakes by ten lengths. It was clear that Alydar was in fine fettle, but so it had been before the first Saturday in May.
I still remember the crowd that day as more than 50,000 fans descended on the Spa to revel in racing’s great rivalry. The attendance figure would crush the previous record at Saratoga, and the Zipse family proudly added four to the final total. It was their first contest since the unbelievable Belmont, and patrons hungered for another Affirmed-Alydar blockbuster. Only two others dared to stand in the way of the showdown. One was a Puerto Rican longshot with a flashy name, Shake Shake Shake, and the other was Nasty and Bold who was quietly becoming the third best horse in the division. The overflow crowd favored Affirmed, but despite the result of the Triple Crown, it was not clear cut. He was at 7-10, while Alydar was solidly supported at even money.
Anticipation for the race was palpable. Unfortunately the Travers would not be a repeat of the Belmont. It would go down something like this … As Affirmed took over the lead from Shake Shake Shake, Laffit Pincay, Jr., filling in for Steve Cauthen, moved Affirmed to the rail. He may not have realized how close Alydar, who had moved up strongly on the inside, was to him. The move forced Alydar and rider Jorge Velasquez to check sharply. Alydar dropped back suddenly and the race was as good as over. Affirmed easily held a comfortable advantage over Nasty and Bold, while Alydar showed courage in re-rallying. Despite the strong effort by Alydar, Affirmed would have plenty left in reserve to hit the finish line a length and three-quarters in front of his rival. The large crowd had seen the incident and the murmuring did not stop after the race. The inquiry sign went up, and although the two champions never bumped, Pincay’s move to the rail was deemed enough reason to take down the Triple Crown winner.
The greatest rivalry in modern racing would end on an unsatisfying disqualification. The 1978 Travers would turn out to be their tenth and final meeting. If the incident never happened, who would have won? I honestly have no idea, but I know it made for a most memorable first Travers for one young fan.
For a video of the race, please follow this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6qUCO_bLns and be sure to come back and comment on my first Travers.