Alydar finally found a way to beat Affirmed as a 3-year-old yesterday: by having the Triple Crown winner foul him.
The Travers Stakes was to be yet another test of these two brilliant colts, and it attracted a record Saratoga crowd of 50,122.
Laffit Pincay, substituting for injured Steve Cauthen, blindly permitted Affirmed to drop in sharply on Alydar after leaving the half-mile pole. Velasquez had to take up very abruptly and, for a moment, from a distance, it appeared as though Alydar might have suffered a serious injury, so drastic was the effect of Affirmed's action.
The incident cost ALydar perhaps as much as four lengths, before Velasquez could gather the Calumet Farm colt together again. Affirmed breezed into a comfortable lead. Alydar pulled himself together and charged after the leader, but he never got closer than the length and three-quarters that separated the two at the finish.
Affirmed easily held off Alydar through the stretch but the stewards immediately flashed the inquiry sign and, a few minutes later, Velasquez lodged an objection. The stewards needed less than 10 minutes to reach a decision.Alydar was placed first, Affirmed second.
The adjudicated results marked the first time Alydar has beaten Affirmed in 1978, following losses in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Affirmed's lead in the "match" series, over two seasons, is 7-3.
"The way it happened today, the satisfaction of winning is greatly diminished," trainer John Veitch observed. "What Pincay (a California-based rider) did today might be the way they ride in California. That might be the style there, but you don't get away with that sort of thing here."
"We didn't want to win it this way," Velasquez echoed. Then, visibly shaken, the Panamanian moved off into a corner of the jockeys' room, saying, "Please excuse me. I'm very upset right now."
Pincay referred to the disqualification as "a borderline call" by the stewards. "I thought there was enough room for Alydar to get through. He was going through a blind spot."
The blind spot was Pincay's. He had deliberately taken Affirmed well off the inside rail, moving up the backstretch. Shake Shake Shake was second at that point. Velasquez, rather than take Alydar outside two horses, and losing ground, chose to take the opening Affirmed's rider had created.
"Jorge told me he was within an inch of being dropped, when Affirmed came over like that." Veitch declared. "It was bad riding on Pincay's part. Once Affirmed got the lead he should have stayed right on the rail. I just hope my horse is all right. We won't know until tomorrow."
Ordinarily, one might ask why Velasquez elected to go into the inside "trap" set by Pincay. But in this instance he had little room to go elsewhere, since Affirmed and Shake Shake Shake had drifted out toward the middle of the racing strip.
The Travers, if nothing else, showed how much of an advantage a rider on Affirmed has over a rider of Alydar when they meet in this series of mini-matches. Affirmed is the speedier, the shiftier, the more tractable, the more versatile. His rider can always dictate strategy and tactics. But yesterday, Veitch observed, "Pincay went to sleep when his horse took the lead."
Affirmed was attempting, had he won yesterday, to succeed Secretariat as thoroughbred racing's greatest single season money-winner. Secretariat set the mark of $860,404 in 1973. Second money of $23,056 only served to get him closer.
Alydar earned $62,880 of the $104,800 purse. The victory was his third in a row since the Belmont and his 12th in 20 starts. Affirmed lost for the third time in 18 outings.
Affirmed's time for the 1 1/4 miles of fast footing was 2:02. He was favored, at 3 to 5, with Alydar even money in the mutuels. Nasty and Bold finished third, nearly four lengths behind Alydar and more than 15 lengths ahead of Shake Shake Shake, the only other competitor. Alydar paid $4 straight.
The next meeting between the two 3-year-olds might well be the $300,000 Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 16, when older runners also would be entered over 1 1/8 miles under handicap conditions. Or they might wait for the weight-for-age Woodward Stakes in October.
A considerable portion of American racing history has been made here at Saratoga, where Upset upset Man o'War and Jim Dandy once won the Travers. But, this running of the "Midsummer Derby" should hold its own with other memorable races.
The previous Saratoga attendance record was 35,330, set last summer. That is nearly 15,000 fewer fans than gathered - many in the infield - yesterday.