The "Dear John" letters arrive daily here at the Calumet Farm barn on the Belmont Park backstretch.
"We're averaging 10 to 12 a day since the Preakness," John Veitch, Alydar's trainer, acknowledged yesterday. "They're from people who are still his loyal fans, even though he's lost to Affirmed in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
"They're still confident in him. They felt, and they still feel, he is the better horse; that circumstances helped get him beat in Louisville and Baltimore."
Veitch shares the writers' belief. The young trainer appears to be more confident of an Alydar victory in Saturday's $150,000 Belmont Stakes than he was before the first two events in theTriple Crown Series. Alydar can defeat Affirmed straight up, over the 1 1/2 miles, all by himself, Veitch believes, but he appreciates the "help" he is receiving from the correspondence course.
"Letters contain all kinds of advice and suggestions," the trainer said. "They want me to take the blinkers off, or to make Alydar go to the lead, or to try a shadow roll so Alydar won't cock his head like he does. A few get a little technical. They want to know why he doesn't change leads. They're wrong about that. He does change. It's just that he finishes the stretch runs on his left lead, which is ususual."
Surprisingly, few of the letters contain criticism of the trainer or of Alydar's jockey, Jorge Velasquez. "We've gotten off pretty easy," Veitch said. "And on Saturday, I'm going to make a few of the letter-writers happy by making one change some of them suggested. The blinkers are coming off for the Belmont.
"I'm not grabbing at straws and, frankly, I don't think it will make that much difference, but Alydar doesn't need them. He works without them. I put them on him when he was a 2-year-old because he had a habit of looking around, not keeping his mind on his business. But he's a big boy now. The absence of blinkers may help him relax and run a little more freely during the early part.
"I can make the change now," the trainer continued. "Had I done it for the Derby when Alydar was riding a victorious wave, and he'd been beaten, I'd never have heard the end of it."
Alydar's fans will be happy to hear about the change. They would have been distressed, however, had they been here last weekend when their hero suffered another of his frequent attacks of gas colic.
"Fortunately, we caught it right away and got him to jog a little." Veitch said. "His dam had the same susceptibility. We have tried to vary his diet in an effort to find out what causes the condition. We have to watch him closely, for colon impact."
A field of five is to be entered in the Belmont today. Darby Creek Road, Noon Time Spender and Judge Advocate are expected to join Alydar in an attempt at preventing Affirmed from becoming the 11th Triple Crown winner. Alydar is the only rival accorded a chance.
"It sure looks like we'll have to beat him ourselves," Veitch remarked. "I don't know anybody else who's going to really enter into it."
Affirmed beat Alydar by 1 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs and by a long neck after a furious stretch duel at Pimlico.
"Alydar didn't run his race in the Derby," Veitch observed. "He did run his race in the Preakness. He ran to the best of his ability that day. But the Preakness is a speed-oriented race and Affirmed has the superior speed. The inherent nature of that race was to his advantage.
"Now Belmont is different. It's more a test of stamina and strength. My horse is stronger. Alydar is not going to blow by Affirmed in the Belmont. He'll try to grind him down, by laying closer to him, stalking him all the way, letting out a little bit earlier than usual. They might start to hook up at the five-eights pole, instead of the three-eighths, and drag each other home from there."
The letter-writers suggest that Veitch have Valesquez send Alydar into the early lead, forcing Steve Cauthen, on Affirmed, to alter his tactics slightly.
"There is no need for that over a mile and a half distance," Veitch responds. "Changing a horse's basic racing pattern, when he's running well, may work occasionally but it also can be catastrophic. I remember they sent Dike to the lead in the 1969 Belmont, against Arts and Letters and Majestic Prince, after he had been unable to run them down in the Derby. You know what happened."
Dike wound up a distant third. Alydar will finish better than that in this 100th Belmont. He will be second, at the worst, and first, if Veitch is right. Either way, the letters will continue to find their way to the Calume Farm.