There are many so-called rivalries in sports. But there are few whose status lives on and can stand up to the test of time. It is one small three letter word that is the barometer for these athletic battles that grow more legendary with each passing generation. That word? And. It’s just that simple. Whenever you cannot name one participant without the reflexive action of adding the “and” for the second one, you realize you have something special. For instance: The Yankees ‘AND’ The Red Sox, the Celtics ‘AND’ the Lakers, Frazier ‘AND’ Ali.
In horse racing there is one rivalry that set the bar so high that it has not been matched in 40 years. I am referring to AFFIRMED and ALYDAR. From the spring of 1977 through the late summer of 1978 the two horses met on 10 occasions. AFFIRMED got the better of ALYDAR winning seven of the ten races. But, what made their head to head match-ups unforgettable events was that in nine of those ten races they finished first and second, and one of them was the winner in all ten.
The highlight of this fabulous rivalry was of course their three epic clashes in the 1978 Triple Crown races. Within those three races they ran against each other for a combined total of nearly four miles, with only two lengths separating them in the three races. The Kentucky Derby was the ‘biggest’ margin of victory as AFFIRMED prevailed by 1.5 lengths. The Preakness produced a memorable stretch run duel, with AFFIRMED winning by a neck. Then at the Belmont Stakes, with a Triple Crown hanging in the balance they authored what many still regard as one of horse racing’s greatest contests. They battled along side each other the final seven furlongs with neither giving way. AFFIRMED won that ultimate test of endurance and courage, reaching the wire first and beating his omnipresent rival by a nose, thereby winning The Triple Crown.
With that race the two horses galloped into racing lore. “And”would forever exist between them. AFFIRMED and ALYDAR, legendary rivals.