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A fine way to affirm his worth

He had won on both coasts, but many questioned the chestnut's superiority. Then Affirmed took the celebrated Hopeful Stakes from a prince of a colt named Alydar and laid claim to the 2-year-old title

Fans often confused two horses trained by LeRoy Jolley. One was named Foolish Pleasure and he won the Kentucky Derby. The other was Honest Pleasure and, while favored to win his Derby, he did not. To make things worse, Foolish was honest and Honest often foolish. Foolish Pleasure retired last year, but Honest Pleasure stayed around to run for another season. No matter. Many folks still call him Foolish Pleasure. Now racing fans have a new duo to deal with—Affirmed and Affiliate.

Affiliate is a good 3-year-old owned by the Harbor View Farm of Louis Wolf-son and trained by Laz Barrera. Affirmed is a good 2-year-old, which he proved last week by winning the $80,175 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. He, too, is from the Harbor View/Barrera barn. "All the time I find myself entering Affiliate in a stake that Affirmed belongs in, or writing down Affirmed when I mean Affiliate," says Barrera.

Well, Affirmed is trying very hard to make a name for himself. He has taken major races on both the East and West Coasts in just three months of competition. He has started six times and won five races, $168,137 and four stakes. And now the son of Exclusive Native-Won't Tell You also may have won the 2-year-old championship. His main rival for the title, Alydar, finished half a length back of Affirmed in the Hopeful.

There were only five starters in the 6½-furlong event, but the field was high quality and attracted a sizable crowd to the walking ring. Alydar, who had won four straight, including Belmont Park's Great American and Tremont and Monmouth Park's Sapling, was the favorite at even money. The colt is owned by Calumet Farm, which 25 years ago was a powerhouse but last year earned only $87,-725. The first stable to win $1 million in a single season, Calumet did it at a time when purses were half what they are today. The year was 1947. That winter Calumet's 6-year-old Armed won the Widener Handicap at Hialeah and its 3-year-old Faultless took the Flamingo. Also on the shedrow were a couple of 2-year-olds named Citation and Coaltown who would soon smash their opposition. Calumet had superlative runners of all ages and descriptions that season and a master trainer in Plain Ben Jones. By December 31 it had won 100 races and $1,402,436 (the previous record was $601,660). Although million-dollar earnings and deals are now commonplace in sport, Calumet was the first to make the figure a standard. Six times Calumet topped $1 million in winnings, and its devil's-red and blue colors became not only famous but feared.

Then Calumet's foundation sire, Bull Lea, died, and Citation, who was to be his replacement, failed dismally at stud. The stable rarely bought new stock and the bloodlines thinned. But this year Calumet seemed resurgent. Its 3-year-old filly, Our Mims, won major races, and Alydar was considered such a bright prospect that Trainer John Veitch sent him to the post for the first time in the Youthful Stakes at Belmont instead of in a maiden event. Word of the colt's ability had spread throughout the back-stretch and he was made the favorite. However, he had bad racing luck and finished fifth. The horse that beat him on that occasion was Affirmed.

Three weeks later Alydar (the name derives from Aly Darling, which is how-Calumet owner Lucille Markey used to address Aly Khan) met Affirmed again and this time beat him by 3½ lengths. The ease with which Alydar won suggested that he should have things his way for the rest of the season.

However, losing to Alydar in the Great American did not stop Barrera from thinking that Affirmed was something special, too. Barrera is a man of great pride, wit and cunning. He is the leading trainer in the nation in earnings and is constantly jumping on planes to California to oversee his West Coast operation. On one such trip he saddled Affirmed in a division of the $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile, and the colt won off by himself, easing to the finish line seven lengths in front.

"Sometimes I think I must be crazy trying to run one stable in California and one in New York," Barrera says. "I'm on the red-eye airplane all the time. Until 1976 I had never won a $100,000 race in my life. Then I trained Bold Forbes to win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. It brought me a lot of joy as well as the publicity, but this year may turn out to be good, too. I'm awfully proud of being the leading trainer at Saratoga for the second year in a row. It's hard to be the top trainer here; the meeting only lasts for 24 days and you're competing against the biggest and best stables day in and day out."

Ten days before the Hopeful, Barrera sent Affirmed to the gate with Steve Cauthen up in Saratoga's Sanford Stakes. The colt won in a hard drive. The race served its purpose, priming Affirmed for the Hopeful and demonstrating that he, like his sire, Exclusive Native, also a Sanford winner, relished the track. But in the Hopeful he would have to take on Alydar again.

Saturday's race was marred when Alydar, breaking from the inside post position, swerved to his right and bumped into Tilt Up, who in turn slammed into Darby Creek Road. Alydar seems to have trouble coming out of starting gates. In nearly all of his starts, he has gotten away last. Jockey Eddie Maple had to give the colt time to settle down, dropping him back into last place. Affirmed, on the other hand, broke alertly, and Cauthen kept him outside (the Saratoga track is usually deep along the rail) and free of trouble. At the top of the stretch Affirmed went to the lead as Alydar came up to join him. They ran through the stretch together, but a furlong from the finish Affirmed inched away. Regal and Royal closed rapidly to finish three lengths back of the winner.

Affirmed's time of 1:15[2/5] was a stakes record, which was no mean feat; Man o' War, Regret, Whirlaway, Native Dancer, Nashua, Buckpasser and Secretariat were Hopeful winners, too.

This was the season when the sons and daughters of Secretariat were expected to emulate their sire. Thus far three have raced and finished fourth, fourth, and seventh. The seventh-place finisher, Brilliant Protege, appeared in the race following the Hopeful. He didn't run a lick despite going off at odds of 5 to 2. Most of the Secretariats do not look like their father, which horsemen consider a bad sign. For instance, Brilliant Protege is a roan. On the other hand a daughter of Sham, the colt who was always running second to Secretariat, was making headlines at Saratoga last week. This was the undefeated Sherry Peppers, who took the Spinaway Stakes.

The Hopeful win gave Barrera a tie (with T. J. Kelly) for the Saratoga training title. As he stood in the winner's circle Barrera was asked if he was aware of that fact. "Very aware," he said. He examined the strapping chestnut colt being led away and said, "Steve Cauthen rode this horse like he was born on him. Affiliate was named the outstanding 2-year-old of the Hollywood Park meeting and now with this win he has to be the best 2-year-old anywhere." Barrera paused and shook his head. "Dammit," he said, "this isn't Affiliate, it's Affirmed."


Once more Calumet's famed devil's-red and blue silks are a threat, but Affirmed turned them back with a record run.