Thirty-four years after Affirmed and Alydar staged the best Triple Crown rivalry of all time, racing fans reminisced with their Hall of Fame riders. Steve Cauthen was "The Kid'' back in the spring of 1978, and Jorge Velasquez was in the prime of a career in which he won 6,795 races. Unfortunately, none were in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes against Affirmed.
"It takes two to tango, and I was fortunate to be in position to battle him all through the Triple Crown,'' Velasquez, 65, said after he and Cauthen, 52, signed postcards, photos and other memorabilia for two hours Saturday in Belmont Park's clubhouse. "It's too bad I got beat in all three races, but it was great for racing.''
Cauthen compares Affirmed's talent and competitive fire to Michael Jordan's. Yet the first time he rode Affirmed, in a workout in 1977 at Saratoga, Cauthen wasn't dazzled. "He was quite lazy in his work,'' he said. "He won the Sanford easily enough, but it wasn't until the next race, when he beat Alydar in the Hopeful, that I realized what he was.''
Patrice Wolfson co-owned Affirmed with her late husband, Louis, who also bred him. Like Cauthen, who said, "Yes, the good old days," she was enjoying the trip down memory lane. "This is just wonderful,'' she said.
At 75, Wolfson is old school but up to date on technology. She took pictures of Cauthen and Velasquez with her smartphone and pulled out her iPad to show photos from the web site www.affirmedtriplecrown. com, which she said should be up and running by Friday.
"The Preakness was so exciting,'' she said. "I feel this little horse has a tenacity about him that reminds me of Affirmed. It's so nice to see another one with that kind of fight, and that makes this Triple Crown feel different for me.''
In 1981, Velasquez and Pleasant Colony were in the same position as I'll Have Another but finished third at odds-on in the Belmont. Since then, nine other bids for immortality failed on Long Island. Like Wolfson, Cauthen is a fan of I'll Have Another, but he recalls thinking Big Brown was a sure thing in the 2008 Belmont, in which he ran last.
"There are a million things that could happen,'' Cauthen said. "I thought Big Brown was a lock, especially when Casino Drive scratched the day before. I thought, 'Oh, just hand him the trophy,' and look how that turned out.''