A Penny With A Weird Half And Half An Animal Great Racehorses Of The Seventies

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Great Racehorses Of The Seventies

The 1970s represented one of the last decades when high-stakes racing dominated the public mind as it had done during the 1920s, 30s and 40s, when great horses such as Man O’War, Seabiscuit and Citation returned from the sport to pageantry. for culture heroes with confidence. The 1970s represent one of the last decades when thoroughbred racing dominated the public mind, as it had during the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, when great horses such as Man O’War, Seabiscuit , and Citation went from being sports page celebrities to bona fide culture heroes. Take a look at two great horse racing stories of the 70s: the rivalry between Affirmed and Alydar, and the life of a horse that had no rival – Secretariat.

Rivals: Affirmed Vs. Alydar

Although there is a natural connection between aristocratic lifestyles and equestrian pursuits, the most famous horse racing stories (at least in the United States) tend, ironically, to be chilling tales. Affirmed (1975-2001) is as good an example of this trend as any. The foal of Exclusive Native and Won’t Tell You, this Florida-born racehorse appeared to be a middle packer in his early races—a horse with some potential, but not a world conqueror.

Even after his emergence as a serious contender, many track fans pinned their highest hopes on Alydar—the rugged and impressive Calumet colt with whom Affirmed developed a fruitful relationship with Rogers and Shorter during the late 70s. , beating him in the Youthful Stakes. but losing to him in the American Grand Stakes (among their earliest meetings).

What Affirm lacked in muscle (giving five pounds to his rival) and edge he often made up for in heart, with late-season 1977 wins in the Hopeful and Futurity Stakes. Although the rainy winter of 1978 hampered his training, Affirmed put on pounds of muscle, emerging in early March as a mature and impressive racehorse.

All eyes were on Alydar and affirmed as the 1978 Kentucky Derby came into view. The older of the two horses was the 6-5 favorite but Affirmed got off to a strong start that powered him to victory. Although he continued to be perceived as a bit of an underdog even in light of this success, with Eastern sportsmen calling his impressive performances a fluke, or perhaps the luck of a good start, he scored another victory – albeit a much closer one , in which Affirm put himself within firing range of Alydar’s famous (but, thankfully, missed) final shot—in the Preakness.

But there are three races in the Triple Crown – the last being the 12-mile Belmont Stakes. Alydar, a horse that looked stronger over the long distance, posed a bigger threat here and the race really unfolded as Alydar’s trainers had hoped – a blazing mano-e-mano duel in the sun. But Affirmed responded to this unprecedented pressure with a grace under fire that could make Hemingway blush: put on the rail in the final stretch, he lit up around his rival in a final burst of power and, by a nose, won the Belmont – and the Triple Crown.

Years later, the two horses met again at Calumet Farms, where they were both studded.

Secretariat

Thoroughbred racing doesn’t always get all the headlines. Basketball players, quarterbacks, even football players and Olympians get most of the glory, TV biographies, Sports Illustrated covers. But twice during the twentieth century, a horse became not just a media star, but a universal symbol—a galvanizing, galloping metaphor on foot.

The first time, it was the sea biscuit. And in the early ’70s, as the country looked poised for a second depression, as civil rights bit the dust and Watergate began its slow unraveling, there was Secretariat (1970-89).

From his earliest days, when he refused to cling to his mother the way most grazing newborns do, he was recognized as a special horse. The names handed down by his owner Penny Tweedy to the Jockey Club reflect this early sense of his uniqueness: “Something Special”, “Deo Volente”, “Sceptre”. All these names were in use and it was a secretary at Meadow Stables who finally suggested “Secretariat”.

In his two-year-old season, he took eight consecutive first-place finishes, after an embarrassing debut in which he suffered from kicks from the starting gate to the hands (hooves) of other horses. This mostly brilliant start marked him in the eyes of fans and speculators.

Secretariat’s owners signed him to a record deal of $6,080,000, one of the terms of which was that the colt’s racing career be ended and his breeding career begin after the following season. So Secretariat entered its three-year special-action season, having one year to make its mark.

The circumstances were special and they put on special shows. He conquered the races before the Triple Stakes, with one odd exception, in the Wood Memorial, which only served (according to his owner) to anger him and increase his determination. In the Kentucky Derby he earned a come-from-behind victory, while in the Preakness the rising horse took a two-and-a-half-length victory over his nearest rival. Now the expectations have increased. Would Secretariat provide America with the first Triple Crown victory of the television generation? Or would he fall victim to injury, illness or the kind of inexplicable weakness that had plagued him at Wood, but this time with the stakes much higher?

In this case, the Secretariat fulfilled the expectations of the viewers. But what no one could have predicted was an almost embarrassing margin of victory that established him not only as a great horse, but perhaps the greatest in history. In the Belmont Stakes he jumped in the final stretch with 20 lengths of the day between him and his nearest competitor. Then – in the complete absence of competition – he raced himself, widening that gap to 31 lengths, setting a world record of 2:24.

Perhaps the famous writer George Plimpton said it best, in an interview for ESPN’s Classic SportsCentury series: “He was the only honest thing in this country at the time. This great big animal who “just ran because he liked running”.

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