Affirmed and Alydar, who raced against only themselves and the teletimer in the fabulous spring of 1978, always seemed to go together. All that separated them was Affirmed's speed. All that separates them now is a wooden wall.
Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978. He beat Alydar by 1 1/2 lengths in the Kentucky Derby, a neck in the Preakness and a head in the Belmont. Each time, the margin was smaller, but each time it was enough.
What most non-racing fans who got caught up in the duels of 10 years ago forget is that the two horses actually met more times as 2-year-olds than as 3-year-olds.
Affirmed won the Youthful in 1977, and Alydar, making his first start, was fifth. It was the only time the loser in the matchup would finish anywhere but second. Alydar came back to win the Great American. Affirmed won the Hopeful and the Futurity. But when Alydar came back to win the Champagne, it looked as if he might be the champion. It was the last time Alydar ever finished in front of Affirmed.
The 2-year-old championship was settled at Laurel Race Course in Maryland. The pair hooked up on the turn of the Laurel Futurity and ran as a team the rest of the way. In a finish every bit as exciting as their great Belmont, Affirmed won by a neck.
With that narrow victory, Affirmed won the 2-year-old championship and repeated a pattern of winning the close ones.
Neither horse would lose the next year until the Derby. Alydar, the sentimental favorite from Calumet, was the 6-5 favorite. Affirmed, the horse ridden by wonder jockey Steve Cauthen, was 9-5.
Affirmed stalked the speed and took over on the turn. Alydar started too late and never got close enough for Cauthen to be concerned.
After the Triple Crown, the horses met for the final time in the Travers. It was an anticlimax. Affirmed finished first, but was disqualified for interfering with Alydar on the backstretch. The final score was Affirmed 7, Alydar 3.
Alydar has become much more than the other horse now. He is one of the top stallions in the world. His son, Alysheba, won last year's Derby and Preakness and is better than ever this year.
Affirmed is just another stallion in a state full of them. But when visitors come to Calumet, they know the last Triple Crown winner. To them, Alydar was just the horse who ran second.
To his trainer, John Veitch, who is getting Brian's Time ready for this year's Derby, Alydar was special. "I still like to talk about it," Veitch said yesterday. "It's like your first love. That was my first Derby. The horse did so well.
"Everyting was kind of special. It was very exciting, very rewarding, occasionally frustrating, but not enough frustration not to remember it very fondly.
"I have reflected back on it to see if there was something I could do, now that I've had 10 more years' experience, to make the outcome any different . . . "
After a long, thoughful pause, Veitch, now 42, said smiling, "I wouldn't admit it to you, anyway, or anybody else. No, I don't think there really was. It was just the way things were. The outcome was the outcome."
Laz Barrera, who trained Affirmed, was trying to get Mi Preferido ready for this year's Derby. The horse was declared out of the race yesterday with a hip problem.
Barrera was not around yesterday, but Affirmed's record will always speak for that of his trainer.
Affirmed and Alydar, forever linked, are now linked forever. Ten years ago, they were the show, the greatest rivalry in horse racing history.