May 29th 2014 12:08 am |
Duel for the Crown: Affirmed, Alydar, and Racing’s Greatest Rivalry
By: Linda Carroll and David Rosner
Gallery Books | 368 pages | Published: April 2014
The racing world awaits another try at the Triple Crown with California Chrome poised to make a run in the Belmont Stakes on June 7. It has been 36 years since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown and Alydar became the only colt ever to finish second in all three races. A whole generation of racing fans have yet to experience a sweep. For those fans and the legions of fans who await the next Triple Crown winner, Linda Carroll and David Rosner have authored a well-researched and deftly written addition to the canon of American racing history. Duel for the Crown: Affirmed, Alydar, and Racing’s Greatest Rivalry hits all the perfect notes in retelling the story of the 1978 Triple Crown.
The real story behind any great race horse, or in this case two, is a series of mini-biographies about the people intimately tied to the horse. In Duel for the Crown the owners, trainers, and jockeys take center stage. The authors weave the story of Calumet Farm, the legendary owners behind Alydar with that of Affirmed owners, Harbor View Farm. While the story of Calumet has been often told, the book provides new insight into Harbor View and that of its owner Louis Wolfson. The authors offer a nuanced view of Wolfson who was vilified in his day as a “corporate raider,” specializing in hostile takeovers. He started his stable and had some success in the early 1960s, before being prosecuted for fraud and perjury in 1968. After serving time in prison, he was encouraged to return to racing by Patrice Jacobs, the daughter of Hall of Fame trainer Hirsch Jacobs, who became his second wife.
In addition to delving deep into the owners of Affirmed and Alydar, the authors tell the contrasting stories of their jockeys. Affirmed was ridden by the young phenom Steve Cauthen who burst onto the racing scene in 1976 and was only eighteen when he won 1978 Triple Crown. Alydar’s jockey, Jorge Velasquez, was among the talented pool of jockeys who came from Panama starting in the 1950s. Carroll and Rosner present a detailed (and harrowing) account of coming up as a jockey in the South American country that has produced some of this country’s best riders.
The trainers of Affirmed and Alydar, Laz Barrera and John Veitch, are the subject of the most compelling narratives in the story. Veitch, Alydar’s trainer, came from a family of horse trainers and accepted the job as Calumet’s trainer in 1976. Among the highlights in Duel for the Crown is the author’s account of Veitch’s ascendance from sleeping in an unheated stable to becoming the trainer for legendary Calumet Farm. Aside from the two brilliant colts, the star of the book is Laz Barrera. One of racing’s most colorful characters, his story and unique perspective about racing and life are a joy to read and illuminated superbly in Duel for the Crown. Carroll and Rosner mined memorable quotes from contemporary sources of all the players but the most memorable come from Barrera.
Duel for the Crown beautifully tells the tale of the last Triple Crown winner and his unlucky rival Alydar. If Affirmed is the last of the Triple Crown winners, it seems the racing gods saved the best story for last.