In Their Own Words: Steve Cauthen, Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Jorge Velasquez

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The New York Racing Association is presenting a series of diaries to help celebrate the 150th Runhappy Travers on August 24 at Saratoga Race Course. “In Their Own Words” will feature prominent owners, trainers and jockeys as they re-live some of the most stirring moments in the rich history of the “Mid-Summer Derby.” 

Future diaries will feature: 

Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith recount the day Arrogate staged arguably the greatest individual performance in the long and glorious history of Saratoga Race Course. The 3-year-old, stepping up from allowance company for his first Grade 1 test in the Travers three years ago, dominated by 13 ½ lengths while smashing General Assembly’s track record for a mile and a quarter. Arrogate stopped the clock in 1:59.36. General Assembly’s mark of 2:00 had stood since August 18, 1979.
Here is the third part of the series:
In Their Own Words: Alydar finally defeats Affirmed in bittersweet 1978 Travers
By Steve Cauthen, Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Jorge Velasquez with Tom Pedulla
Jorge Velasquez (jockey aboard Alydar) 

At the half-mile pole, I saw Angel’s horse (Shake Shake Shake) was drifting out and taking Laffit and Affirmed out. I had a lot of ground to make up at that point, so when I saw the big hole inside, I went for it. I asked Alydar to run and he took off.

When Laffit moved to close the hole, he didn’t know how fast my horse was running. I know he didn’t do it on purpose. He just misjudged how fast my horse was running. We were really moving because I didn’t want Affirmed to get away from us.

When Affirmed came in, I had to stand and check my horse severely. It was one of the toughest spots I had ever been in. We bounced off the fence a little bit. By the time we straightened out, Alydar had gone from second to fourth because he was bothered so badly.

Alydar was not discouraged. He got going again at the quarter pole and we made another run at Affirmed, but it was not enough. As we galloped out, I had no doubt in my mind that Affirmed would be taken down with the way we were bounced around.

People still ask me if we would have beaten Affirmed if Alydar had not been interfered with. We will never know. Affirmed was the kind of horse that would give you whatever he had whenever you wanted it. He was such a hard-trying horse. He was very hard to beat.

I think it would have been like the Belmont Stakes, a very tough race where they would have really challenged each other. I wanted to beat Affirmed with no excuse, not the way it happened.

Laffit Pincay, Jr. (jockey aboard Affirmed)

It was one of those things where I wish I could do it over again, but you can’t.

Angel Cordero was inside of me and he was keeping me out most of the way. We went into the turn and I didn’t want to lose any more ground, so I let my horse go and he opened up.

The last time I looked, Alydar was far back. I figured I had plenty of room to go in and I wanted to close the hole. There were two things I did not count on. When Affirmed made the lead, he started pulling himself up and waiting for competition. He would do that sometimes. That day he did it more than any other time. I also did not realize that Alydar had picked up speed.

When I moved inside, I did not hear Jorge say anything. Usually, riders will say something when things get tight. We all try to look out for each other that way. I would never intentionally put Jorge or any other rider in danger. I never did those types of things as a rider, and I knew New York was very tough that way. You had to ride clean there.

I rode Affirmed as if he was the best horse, and he was the best horse in that Travers. Alydar came close to me again after that and Affirmed just ran away from him.

After we crossed the finish line and I started back toward the winner’s circle, I was surprised to see the “Inquiry” sign. I figured it had to do with another rider, not me. Then I saw the replay. “Oh, damn,” I said to myself.

The stewards did the right thing in taking us down. Jorge had to take up and it was a foul. It was careless riding on my part. You need to be aware of everything that is around you. That is part of your job.

It really bothered me a lot. It was the only race I got beaten with Affirmed. I returned to my home base in California that night and did not feel like riding the next day. I knew there would be more questions about the Travers. I did not want to face the music.

I realized I had to keep my obligations. I had to face up to what happened. When I was asked about the race, I told the reporters exactly what happened. It was very painful for me to go through it again. Then I went out and won four races, one of them a stakes race.

It was a very good day after one of the worst moments of my career.

Steve Cauthen (won the Triple Crown aboard Affirmed before an injury sidelined him for Travers)

I had won the Jim Dandy and was looking forward to the Travers. Then I got a knee injury a couple of weeks before the race. Obviously, it was frustrating. But what are you going to do?

I learned one thing as I joined Mr. and Mrs. Wolfson in their box. It’s a lot more nerve-wracking watching from the stands than it is sitting on the back of a horse. 

As the race was run, I could see Angel pushing Laffit out toward the middle of the track. When I saw Alydar coming up the inside, I wasn’t worried. That only happened to me one time, in the Laurel Futurity. Alydar never came on the inside of me again.

For me, I didn’t think Alydar loved being inside. As far as I’m concerned, he could have let him come up on the inside and he would have beaten him. If it had been me, I would have been waving my left arm and saying, ‘Come up in here.’ 

As we watched live, we knew something happened. We weren’t sure exactly what. Then we saw the replay. Laffit thought he was clear, but he wasn’t quite. He almost flattened Alydar. It was a mistake by Laffit. I’m sure Laffit blames himself more than anyone.

When they took Affirmed down, it was a bitter pill to swallow. What are you going to do? It’s like somebody saying something bad about your kid. To this day, it hurts.

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