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Defeated Maybe, But Never Forgotten

by Randy Chambers

The date, March 23, 1975, a chestnut colt was foaled at Calumet Farm. The colt's caretaker, a mare named Sweet Tooth, his sire, the classic Raise A Native. The eye catching vigilant newborn would be named, Alydar.

Fast forward to Belmont Park on June 15, 1977, where Alydar would make his first career start as a two-year-old in the Youthful Stakes. He managed a fifth place finish, five lengths shy of the first place finisher, Affirmed. In due time, the spectators that roamed the grandstand would ultimately grasp the magnitude one Stakes race would have on the racing history books. Alydar and Affirmed would meet ten times over the course of one year, beginning with Alydar's historical maiden debut on June 15, 1977 to their final meeting on August 19, 1978 in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. Affirmed would reign superior over his counterpart, winning seven of the ten meetings. The 1978 Triple Crown is still embedded in the minds of racing enthusiast, as arguably the greatest rivalry in racing history.

Trained by John Veitch, Alydar would race for his breeder's, the leading owner's and breeders in Triple Crown history, Calumet Farm. Alydar would not dissatisfy his connections and break his maiden in his next start on June 24, 1977 by a convincing 6 3/4 lengths, defeating future Triple Crown contender Believe It and Sauce Boat.

Round two against Affirmed would materialize in his third career start on July 6, 1977 where he defeated his rival by 3 lengths in the Great American Stakes. This would catapult Alydar to two consecutive victories, the Tremont Stakes as well as the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park.

The scene would switch to Saratoga Race Course two weeks later in a meaningful two-year old stakes affair on the Saratoga stakes calender, the Hopeful Stakes. Alydar would attempt to keep the streak alive against his rival Affirmed, but his bid would be denied as Affirmed pulled off the victory winning the Hopeful Stakes by 2 lengths. With traveling bags in hand the battle would continue where it began at Belmont Park, this time in the Futurity Stakes, where Alydar unleashed a furious rally, but just missed at the wire by a short nostril. No worse for wear, Alydar would get his retaliation in the Champagne Stakes, blowing past Affirmed in the stretch, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. With his self-confidence elevated and a chance to take home top two-year-old honors for 1977, Alydar would meet Affirmed at Laurel Park in Baltimore, Maryland in the Laurel Futurity. Not without a resolute effort on Alydar's part, Affirmed was able to hold off Alydar and win by a neck. In his fina!l race as a two-year-old Alydar would go down in defeat to Believe It by two lengths, an opponent he had just thumped five-months earlier when breaking his maiden. He would finish his two-year-old season with a record of 5-4-0 from 10 starts and earnings of $285,025. Affirmed would be made the two-year-old champion of 1977.

Alydar would start his three-year-old campaign with an unblemished record winning his first four starts, including three Derby preps, the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby and Bluegrass Stakes by a combined 19 lengths. Surprisingly, Alydar and Affirmed never faced each other as they prepared for the wear and tear of the Triple Crown races.

The stage was set for the first of three Triple Crown events, the Kentucky Derby on May 6, 1978. However, the mammoth crowd of over 50,000 that gathered at Churchill Downs on this day, had no apprehension that this would be one of the most distinguished Triple Crowns in history. Alydar was made the 6-5 favorite in the Derby while Affirmed was sent of as the second choice at 9-5. Affirmed would press the early pace after breaking sharply, and would eventually take command of the lead on the first turn from Track Reward, while Alydar under restraint, elected to settle at the back of the pack, in the field of eleven runners. At the top of the stretch Affirmed was asked for his run and quickly darted clear under Steve Cauthen, as Alydar, while making steady progress along the backstretch started to find his groove with each and every stride, putting in a strong surge for the leader under Jorge Velasquez. Alydar continued his strong run through the stretch but Affirmed was! able to turn his forceful bid away, winning by 1 lengths. Believe It finished third.

The next stop, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. Alydar, although closer to the pace, was unsuccessful in running down Affirmed in the stretch coming up a neck short. Finishing third as he did in the Kentucky Derby was Believe It. Affirmed as the odds on wagering favorite for the Preakness returned $3.00 $2.10 and $2.10. Alydar paid $2.10 and $2.10, while Believe It flashed $2.10 for the show.

The third and final leg would be the test of champions, the 1 miles Belmont Stakes contested in Alydar and Affirmed's backyard, Belmont Park. Believe It, the third place finisher in the first two legs of the Triple Crown would watch from the sidelines, leaving Alydar and Affirmed in a virtual two horse match race. Affirmed bounced straight to the front of the pack, leading the small group of five through a lethargic first quarter in 25 seconds. Alydar elected to stay close with the leisurely pace being set and passing the half mile pole, the two stayed virtually locked together all the way to the wire, where once again Affirmed was able to out duel Alydar, winning by a head, in one of the most dramatic stretch duels in Triple Crown history. The bright lights flashed across the totalizator board and it was official, Alydar had finished second in all three jewels of the Triple Crown, losing by less than two lengths in all three races.

After the grueling Triple Crown races, Alydar would take a slight rest and return to competition on July, 22 1978 in the windy city of Chicago at Arlington Park in the Arlington Classic. He dispatched a scarce field of five while showing a sharp turn of foot to un-cork a furious stretch drive to win by thirteen lengths. The Arlington Classic would translate to a win in the Whitney Handicap where he won easily by ten lengths.

The final meeting between Alydar and Affirmed would be showcased on August 19, 1978 in the Travers Stakes. Nevertheless, this match up would be mired in controversy as Affirmed, crossing the wire 1 3/4 lengths the better of Alydar, was disqualified to second for an alleged bumping incident on the far turn. In that race Alydar sustained a cut on his foreleg which required him to miss a minimal amount of training time. In the process of training for the Marlboro Cup and a possible date with Affirmed, Alydar fractured his cannon bone in his left front foot, ending his three-year-old season with a record of 7-3-0 from 10 starts and earnings of $565,071.

Alydar would make six starts as a four-year-old after recovering from his injury, most notably winning the Nassau County Handicap at Belmont Park by 3 3/4 lengths over Nasty and Bold. He would unfortunately finish his career in the Suburban Handicap, finishing third behind State Dinner and Mr. Bea respectively. He would sustain a fracture of a sesamoid bone while training for the Brooklyn Handicap, ending his racing career with a final career mark of 14-9-1 from 29 starts. His career lifetime earnings stand at $957,195.

He was retired to stand stud at his home, Calumet Farm, where he would sire ten champions who earned over $25 million. His most notable offspring and first champion was Alysheba, winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes as well as the 1988 Breeder's Cup Classic. Two years later in 1989 he would produce another champion in Easy Goer, who went on to win the 1989 Belmont Stakes, dashing Sunday Silence hopes of a Triple Crown triumph.

Alydar was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1989, but was sadly put to death under lethal injection one year later on a cold day on November 13, 1990 after he apparently kicked his stall door, breaking a bone in his right hind leg at Calumet Farm. It was originally thought Alydar could be saved as he went under emergency surgery that night, but two days later a fall caused a second break in the leg.

Alydar will always be linked to trivia books as the horse who finished second in all three legs of the Triple Crown. But, he should be remembered as a champion in his own right and as an outstanding race horse who had a remarkable career.


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