Why have there been no Triple Crown winners since?
“The breeding today is more for speed than for durability,” Malusis says. “The horses are not as strong mentally and physically. It all starts in the breeding.”
Lou Sahadi – author of “Affirmed: The Last Triple Crown Winner,” new out in paperback – agrees, adding that the breeding issue cuts both ways: Not only are horses bred for speed over endurance but there’s big money in the stud fees of a Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes’ winner. Why risk injury in a Triple Crown quest?
“The dynamics of racing have changed,” says Sahadi, a former Snedens Landing resident. “It used to be the sport of high society, the sport of kings. Now it’s a business.”
A business in which every owner is seeking every technical, technological advantage, Galterio adds, thereby creating a more level playing field.
But Cirillo disagrees with the notion that breeding has made racehorses less durable, noting that in the ’90s and ’00s, many steeds captured two legs of the Triple Crown, including Silver Charm, Charismatic, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones.
“What has happened is that if a horse loses the Derby, the owner may take the Preakness off the table and then the horse is rested for the Belmont. The potential spoiler has a much better chance of being a spoiler.”
Sometimes, you spoil yourself. Cirillo recalls Spectacular Bid’s attempt to follow Affirmed in 1979, which was denied when Bid stepped on a safety pin in his stall at the Belmont and lost the race.
“It’s three races in five weeks,” Cirillo reiterates. “Everything has to go right.”
And that means the team – owner, trainer, jockey, groom, horse – must work as one, sometimes against all odds.
In the case of Affirmed, Sahadi says, “you had a jockey (Steve Cauthen) who had just turned 18, sleeping on the floor of a hotel room the night before the Kentucky Derby, and an owner (troubled Wall Street financier Louis Wolfson) who had been vilified and snubbed by society.”
Add to the mix hard-luck immigrant Cuban trainer Laz Barrera. Binding them all together was Affirmed – smart, steady, disciplined and so laidback that he could lie down in his stall for a nap regardless of the hustle and bustle around him – the antithesis of the stereotypical racehorse. Yet whenever high-strung rival Alydar approached him in the Triple Crown, look out: Affirmed, a classic leader of the pack, would cock an ear, give him the fish eye and surge ahead. Theirs is generally considered to be horseracing’s greatest rivalry, culminating in a Belmont Stakes in which Affirmed won by a mere head.