Affirmed owner Patrice Wolfson on Chrome's attempt at Triple Crown: 'He's welcome to the club'

Kentucky Derby winner Affirmed is surrounded by owners

Kentucky Derby winner Affirmed is surrounded by owners Mr. and Mrs. Louis Wolfson, right, and trainer Lazaro Barrera in the stable area of Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore on Friday, May 19, 1978. Photo Credit: AP / William A. Smith

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Patrice Wolfson wears a medallion around her neck, hanging low, close to her heart. It depicts Affirmed, her beloved racehorse, and above the golden indentations of his windblown mane, it reads, "Triple Crown Winner."

She holds on to everything, she said. She has a piece of Affirmed's braid, his shoes from when he won the Belmont Stakes in 1978, thus becoming the last horse to win the Triple Crown, and, though "very shy, when I talk about Affirmed, I can't stop."

That's why, when she said it was time for someone else to take the crown, it's hard not to listen.

"I don't lose the crown," Wolfson said. Affirmed will "always be the 11th winner of the Triple Crown and if [California Chrome is] the horse I think he is, he's welcome to the club . . . and I think Affirmed needs this. Because people forgot what he really did. They just kind of forget and I won't let them forget."

Affirmed isn't the only one who needs this, she added. The entire horse racing community needs a reason to be excited again. "This horse has caught the imagination," she said, "and his owners, you know, they're different. It's refreshing. It's really refreshing."

Like California Chrome, Affirmed was a gregarious horse who loved to get his picture taken. Though he won in a decade when two other horses, Secretariat (1973) and Seattle Slew (1977), won the Triple Crown, his 3-year-old season was marked by one of the greatest horse racing rivalries of all time, against Alydar.

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"After Secretariat and Seattle Slew . . . there was this idea that maybe it was kind of easy," Wolfson said. "The only difference was that Alydar and Affirmed were so [competitive] . . . They were these unbelievable chestnuts."

Affirmed beat Alydar in all three Triple Crown races in 1978, including in the Belmont Stakes by a nose. Affirmed went on to have success in his fourth and final racing year. After illness, he was euthanized in 2001 and buried whole, an honor, as typically only the head, heart and hooves are buried.

"We bred him and raised him," Wolfson said. "He was like my puppy dog. He would put his head in my arms . . . He was wonderful."

Wolfson took out her iPad and pulled up a picture of her holding Affirmed's head, taken decades ago. Her iPad is full of pictures and mementos, as much a tribute to Affirmed as her medallion and her memories.

On weeks like this, though, she doesn't need the digital reminders. The hubbub of this Triple Crown attempt brings her back, she said, to the heart-stopping final seconds of her own horse's victory.

"My sweet, wonderful husband [the late Louis Wolfson] at Belmont day, stood down the stretch, he just stood like this," she said, adopting a rigid, stoic pose. But after Affirmed won: "I collapsed. Just like an earthquake. Because the ground was shaking and I was shaking."

She'll no doubt be calmer Saturday, but the truth is, Wolfson still has a horse in this race.

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