These are golden years in the life of Affirmed, who 20 years ago
became horse racing's last Triple Crown winner and who today
reigns on a private acre of plush pastureland at Jonabell Farms
in Lexington, Ky. On dry mornings he canters coltishly about,
often before admirers. Affirmed is then attentively groomed and
served a midday repast of fresh oats, cracked corn and bran, all
mixed in sweet molasses. After lunch the horse ambles
contentedly, his muscular neck bowed to taste the clover and
bluegrass at his hooves.
From mid-February to early July, Affirmed's morning gambols are
often delayed. Two or three days a week, he is gently roused in
his roomy stall, bathed and led to a rendezvous with a mare.
Affirmed has not sired any great thoroughbreds but rather many
good ones, including 64 stakes winners. Farmhands review his
breeding form with wonder. He approaches mares respectfully,
cautiously, lest they buck in defiance. When he senses
acquiescence, Affirmed breeds with uncommon swiftness and vigor.
"He's very sensitive to the mare--he has incredible instinct,"
says Phillip Hampton, Affirmed's stallion manager, "but he's
also the most aggressive breeder on the farm."
He was aggressive in his 29 career starts as well, winning 22
times, finishing in the money in every race but one before
retiring in 1979. The most memorable victories were those over
Alydar in each leg of the Triple Crown in 1978. Affirmed, the
second choice, outlasted favored Alydar by 1 1/2 lengths in the
Kentucky Derby. In the Preakness the two raced together down the
stretch before Affirmed, 18-year-old Steve Cauthen up, won by
the length of his chestnut neck. Then came the Belmont, in which
Alydar and Affirmed galloped the last mile flank-by-flank,
thundering majestically ahead of the field. Alydar seemed to
nose forward at the 3/16 pole. Cauthen switched the whip from
right hand to left, and Affirmed responded; at the finish line
he thrust his head forward, victorious.
This Saturday, Real Quiet will try to match Affirmed's feat.
Hampton, who says Affirmed always "gets a little antsy this time
of year," hasn't told the horse about Real Quiet's bid. Not that
Affirmed would fret. He's a beloved 23-year-old stallion with
years of good life ahead. "He's real happy," says Hampton. "And
he deserves to be."
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [Cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED shows horse Affirmed racing ahead of Alydar in the Belmont Stakes]
COLOR PHOTO: BILL LUSTER [Affirmed]
Affirmed always "gets a little antsy this time of year," says