Affirmed's owner rooting for California Chrome to win Triple Crown
By CODY GOODWIN
The Baltimore Sun|
Jun 04, 2014 | 5:11 PM
Patrice Wolfson is talking about a poster. It's a pretty special poster because it shows her favorite horse racing memory.
The poster displays a picture from the finish line of the 1978 Belmont Stakes, Affirmed edging out Alydar for the third time in 35 days. On it are the words, "The Last Triple Crown Winner."
"Sometimes I think that's my name, Mrs. Last Triple Crown Winner," said Wolfson, who co-owned Affirmed with her late husband, Louis.
That could change this weekend.
California Chrome, the chestnut colt with a rags-to-riches story, is the 13th thoroughbred since 1978 to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. A victory at Saturday's 146th Belmont Stakes would make him the first to complete the Triple Crown since Affirmed 36 years ago.
The past three weeks have been busy for Wolfson, who has spoken with media all over the country about the upcoming third leg of the grueling series.
Wolfson has said numerous times that she's cheering for California Chrome for a few reasons.
First and foremost, she said she's ready to give up her title as Mrs. Last Triple Crown Winner. Secondly, Wolfson said a new Triple Crown winner would be good for horse racing.
"He's welcome to the club if he wins, and I think he will," she said. "It would be monumental."
Should California Chrome takes over as the most recent Triple Crown winner, those connected to Affirmed don't worry that he will get lost in history. The story of Affirmed will remain notable, they say, because his victories at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont were integral parts of arguably the greatest rivalry in horse racing.
Affirmed had to beat Alydar in each leg of the Triple Crown — Affirmed won by 1-½ lengths at the Derby, by a neck in the Preakness and by a nose at the Belmont.
They remain the only pair to ever finish one-two in all three races.
The rivalry predates 1978. During their 2-year-old season a year earlier, Affirmed and Alydar squared off six times, with Affirmed winning four of those races. In total, they competed against one another 10 times, with Affirmed winning seven of those races.
"When you have two horses who are outstanding from Day One, and who race against each other through their 4-year-old years and whose only real threats were each other, that's unusual," said Timothy Capps, a professor at the University of Louisville and author of the book "Affirmed and Alydar: Racing's Greatest Rivalry."
"But you saw something unique," Capps continued. "You saw two horses that went at each other over the course of the series … People will always remember them because they were two legitimately great race horses who were both first-ballot Hall of Famers in their own right. They were just that good."
Capps was at the 1978 Belmont Stakes and remembers those in attendance being divided; half cheered for Affirmed and the other half pulled for Alydar. Capps admitted he wanted Alydar to win, and he was initially upset when Affirmed narrowly won at the finish line.
It wasn't until later that he realized just how special that race was.
"It was a really wonderful performance by a really great horse," Capps said. "Everybody at that race was aware that they were watching two remarkable horses. The race itself turned out to be something that could've only been scripted in Hollywood."
Between Affirmed and California Chrome, 12 horses won the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Only four — Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and Smarty Jones (2004) — have come as close as second place in the Belmont.
"For one reason or another, none of them have been able to get the job done," said Steve Cauthen, Affirmed's jockey during the 1978 season. "It's a tough thing to do, and that's why it's only been done 11 times."
Cauthen shared the same sentiment as Wolfson, that Affirmed's place in history is secure, no matter what California Chrome does Saturday.
"It doesn't change anything. It just means somebody else joins the club," Cauthen said. "Seattle Slew did it, and he only held it for a year. Nobody respected him any less. That it's been 36 years shows how difficult it is.
"But I'm pretty optimistic that this horse has a great chance at pulling it off."