Heavily favored Affirmed won the $500,000 Gold Cup and became thoroughbred racing's first $2 million horse - but not without the fight of his life which had 50,000 fans roaring from start to finish today at Hollywood Park.
Affirmed, carrying a career high of 132 pounds, came within one-fifth of a second of the world record for 1 1/4 miles and had to go that fast to beat off Sirlad by three-quarters of a length.
Jockey Laffit Pincay, who never has failed to finish first with Affirmed, did not get the 3-to-10 favorite safely in front until they were deep in the stretch. They reached the finish in 1:58 2-5.
Pincay broke on top with Affirmed on the inside, but jockey Darrel McHargue quickly moved alongside with Sirlad in the opening strides. From there they ran as if they were glued together for more than a mile. Around the far turn they were joined on the outside by Bill Shoemaker and Text.
For a moment, Sirlad had a nose in front and then for another moment, Text appeared to have a slight lead at the top of the stretch.
It was not until he was passing the eighth pole that Affirmed called on his last ounce of energy to beat off his dogged challengers one by one.
Pincay pumped him into a head lead, then a half-length as they drove inside the sixteenth pole and finally they inched ahead to their three-quarters of a length margin of history-making victory.
Text was third and Farnesion was fourth after running in closest pursuit of the three leaders all the way. There was a gap of four lengths behind Farnesion to fifth-place How Curious, the longest shot in the race at 82 to 1. He was followed across the finish by True Statement, As De Copas, Double Discount Saros and Syncopate.
Affirmed was credited with all the fractions of the near-record race, 23 flat for the quarter, 45 3-5 for the half-mile, 1:09 3-5 for six furlongs, and 1:34 1-5 for the mile.
Affirmed went into the race with career earnings of $1,769,218 for 18 victories in 25 races His 19th and most profitable visit to the winner's circle was worth $275,000 and swelled his total to a world of $2,044,218.
Kelso, the deposed record holder, campaigned for eight years and won 39 of 63 races to earn $1,977,896 which might have been double that total at today's inflated prices. Forego who had been second among the money makers with $1,938,957 until Affirmed leap-frogged over him today, won 34 of 57 races until he was retired in 1977.
Affirmed paid $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10. Sirlad returned $2.80 and $2.10, and Text, an entry with True Statement and Syncopate, paid $2.10.
The world record of