Before Secretariat, there was Citation.
Fifty years ago, Citation ran through perhaps the greatest 3-year-old season in the history of horse racing. He won 19 of 20 races (finishing second in the other, at Havre de Grace). The victories included the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Citation's Triple Crown sweep was part of his 16-race win streak, equaled two years ago by Cigar.
Citation won the Kentucky Derby by 3 1/2 lengths at odds of 2-5 (coupled in the betting with highly regarded stablemate Coaltown, who finished second). In the Preakness, the 1-10 Citation decimated his three rivals, winning by 5 1/2 lengths. In the Belmont, at 1-5, he won by eight lengths, tying the stakes record.
"At the height of his racing career in 1948," wrote M. A. Stoneridge in "Great Horses of Our Time," "it did indeed seem that anything any other thoroughbred race horse could do, Citation could do better."
Twenty years ago -- exactly five years after Secretariat -- Affirmed became the 11th and most recent Triple Crown winner. Although he passed under the wire first each time, Affirmed's name is forever linked with that of Alydar, runner-up in all three races.
In one of the fiercest rivalries in sports, Affirmed and Alydar faced one another on 10 occasions over two years. Nine times, they finished one-two. Affirmed won seven of their meetings; Alydar, three. In each of the Triple Crown races, Affirmed won by diminishing margins: 1 1/2 lengths in the Derby, a neck in the Preakness and a head in the Belmont. For the final seven-eighths mile of the Belmont's 1 1/2 miles, Affirmed and Alydar battled side-by-side.
"It was one of the greatest races ever run, anywhere," wrote Joe Hirsch in "The American Racing Manual." "It was apparent this was to be a duel to the death, with no quarter asked and none given. Near the finish, one could see Alydar thrusting his neck forward, straining with every muscle to catch his rival. But he missed by a head as Belmont Park erupted in an explosion of fervor."
Pub Date: 5/09/98