Affirmed was retired to stud in 1979 after a career that included wins in 14 stakes races and more than $2.3 million in earnings.
"He was basically the best horse I ever rode, the most intelligent," said Steve Cauthen, who was 18 when he guided Affirmed to the Triple Crown. "He was just a horse of tremendous courage. He loved to race. He was a great horse to ride."
Alydar finished second to Affirmed in all three races, coming closer to victory each time. Affirmed won by 1 1/2 lengths in the Derby, a neck in the Preakness and a mere head in the Belmont.
The most famous duel, of course, was the last, when Affirmed and Alydar battled side-by-side down the final seven furlongs.
"He pulled it out under the most extreme situation," Cauthen recalled in 1999. "Anyone that saw that race will never forget it, and probably remember it as the greatest race they ever saw."
Even in his retirement years at Jonabell Farm near Lexington, Affirmed always seemed to know when cameras were pointed at him. He had a command presence and would strut and pose, his reddish-brown coat showing a smattering of white around the muzzle and eyes.
"Affirmed will forever stand with those who exemplify the word 'champion' in thoroughbred racing. We cannot begin to imagine how much we will miss him," said Patrice Wolfson, who owned the horse with her husband, Louis.
Affirmed had surgery in October to repair a dislocated left front pastern joint, but laminitis soon developed in his right hoof. Laminitis is an inflammation of soft tissue that can be caused by excessive weight-bearing after the opposite limb is injured.
Dr. Larry Bramlage performed the initial surgery. On Jan. 8, the horse was returned to the hospital, where he was put under continuous observation, according to Jonabell Farm. Bramlage examined Affirmed on Friday morning and recommended euthanasia.
Jimmy Bell, the farm's general manager and president, said the horse seemed to be moving with pain in recent months.
"We elected to have him humanely euthanized, rather than to allow him to continue to suffer," Bell said.
The death of Affirmed leaves Seattle Slew as the only living Triple Crown winner. Seattle Slew became the 10th Triple Crown winner in 1977.
Since Affirmed accomplished the feat, seven colts have had a shot at the Triple Crown but failed by losing in the Belmont Stakes: Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and Charismatic (1999).
"Any time a good horse seems to come along these days, he always gets compared to Affirmed," Bell said. "Until one wins the TriplCrown and 14 Grade I races, they've still got a lot to liv' up to. This horse was the definition of a champion horse."
Affirmed did not have as successful a stud career as Alydar, who was euthanized in 1990 after breaking a leg in his stall, or Seattle Slew, still standing at Three Chimneys. But his progeny have been strong turf runners and his daughters have made good broodmares.
Of the more than 700 Affirmed foals, 75 had won stakes races. As a group, his foals had earned about $40 million.
Cauthen, now a horse breeder in northern Kentucky, is a part owner of Sweet Affirmation, a 2-year-old filly sired by Affirmed. Cauthen plans to race her this year.
"Hopefully, I'll have some more good memories from him," Cauthen said.
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