Affirmed and Alydar, the Big As of American racing, renew their rip-roaring rivalry today in the sort of attraction usually associated with Aqueduct but which, fortunately for area fans, will be offered at Laurel as the $145,150 Futurity Stakes.
The Futurity is the best race to be presented in Maryland this season. Alydar and Affirmed are competing for the Eclipse Award as the nation's champion 2-year-old, and with it the winter role of early favorite for the 1978 Kentucky Derby. The distance is 1 1/16 miles. Affirmed holds a 3-2 edge over Alydar but Alydar won their latest meeting, the Champagne Mile at Belmont Park two weeks ago.
Today's feature shapes up as a match race within a race although three other colts are entered, including Star De Naskra, a multiple stakes winner. Hidden Rhythm and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] high-price claimers, are [WORD ILLEGIBLE] fourth and fifth money.
The Futurity could [WORD ILLEGIBLE] match had Laurel's management so desired. When entries closed Thursday morning only two names were in the box. Laurel went out of its way to dig up several more bodies although in terms of prerace promotion and publicity, a match was the best of all possible productions.
There will be win, place and exacta wagering but no show betting on the Futurity. Alydar is 3 to 5 overnight, Affirmed 4 to 5.
Attempting to pick the winner is virtually impossible. Affirmed and Alydar are as close athletically as they are alphabetically. Alydar finished fifth in his first start as Affirmed won the Youthful. Alydar defeated Affirmed by 3 1/2 lengths in the Great American, when in receipt of five pounds.
Competing under level weights. Affirmed downed Alydar by a half-length in the Hopeful and outgamed the Calumet colt by a nose in the Futurity. Alydar, with a switch in riders to Jorge Velasquez, overtook Affirmed by 1 1/4 lengths in the Champagne.
"Why," the trainers were asked yesterday morning, "should a better back your colt tomorrow?"
"I think the extra distance will continue to help Alydar," John Veitch replied. "My horse had been making his move on the turn. Velasquez, in the Champagne, started to make his run at the quarter pole. These are two high-quality 2-year-olds. You don't want to dog and try to wear down Affirmed. You want to sneak up on him and hit him over the head."
That is exactly what Velasquez did to young Steve Cauthen, Affirmed's jockey, in the Champagne. Alydar is a brilliant one-run horse. He can devastate his field in less than two furlongs.
Affirmed lays near the lead. "In the Champagne, he was in between horses in the stretch, and didn't really see Alydar till he shot by," Laz Barrera remarked. "If you'll look at the films, you'll see that my horse came back at the winner in the final yards.
"These are two excellent 2-year-olds," Berrera continued. "John says he's glad I'm going to California this winter with Affirmed. Well, I'm just as happy that he's going to Florida with Alydar. My advice to the fans would be to be sure to include these two in an exacta."
The closeness between Affirmed and Alydar seems endless. Both are big, good-looking chestnuts. Both were stabled in Barn 21 at Laurel this week, in adjacent stalls. Alydar's sire, Raise A Native, is the grandsire of Affirmed, sired by Exclusive Native , Native Dancer can take credit for the entire tribe.
Both colts have distaff lines noted for off-track performance. Won't Tell You, the dam of Affirmed, is a daughter of Crafty Admiral. Alydar's dam, Sweet Tooth, is by On-and-On. Both colts possess pedigrees long on distance ability. They are classicists. Barring injury, they should dominate next spring's Triple Crown series.
Both are homebreds. The only difference is their place of birth: Alydar was raised on the Kentucky blue grass of Calumet Farm, Affirmed was foaled at Louis Wolfson's farm in Ocala, Fla.
I like Alydar to win the '78 Kentucky Derby; Affirmed to win the '77 Laurel Futurity, narrowly. The Harbor View colt outgamed Alydar each time in their two stretch duels. Veitch's switch to the brilliant Velasquez, plus the slightly longer distance, may continue to tip the delicate balance in Alydar's favor, but I believe this race figures to be run much more like the Hopeful and the (Belmont) Futurity than the Champagne.
"They're not gonna sneak up and hit us (Affirmed) in the head again," Barrera contends.
We'll see. At this point, with their colts so evenly matched, either trainer would be happy to settle for a good, old-fashioned punch in the nose.