The Sentinel-Record

Calumet hero won and lost with true class

- Bob Wisener On Second Thought

If there are racing gods and a horseman’s heaven exists, somewhere in the shade two Hall of Fame trainers are penciling in races for the sport’s Ali and Frazier.

Laz Barrera, the man who trained Affirmed, and John Veitch, the brains behind Alydar, have a lot to talk about. On the 50th anniversar­y of Secretaria­t’s Triple Crown, Veitch’s passing Tuesday at 77 evoked memories of another TC winner in the 1970s — and as much perhaps for a horse who kept running second.

That was a mixed-up decade, one in which, as Merle Haggard sang, “Nixon lied to us all on TV” and Neil Young wrote of “four dead in Ohio.” But it gave us three Triple Crown winners after the sport had been barren in such regard since 1948.

Secretaria­t lost to Angle Light and Onion — though in the first race he had an excuse, a boil in his mouth that needed lanced — but strung together three races in the spring that placed the Bold Ruler colt among ESPN’s top 50 athletes of the 20th century. His most fabled victory moved turf writer Steven Crist to comment, “Some things don’t happen in sports. You don’t score 100 points in a game (Wilt Chamberlai­n), you don’t win the Masters by a dozen shots (Tiger Woods) — and you don’t win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths.”

Seattle Slew, the first Triple Crown winner while undefeated (later joined by Justify, who retired that way), went Big Red one better, distinguis­hing himself in defeat when coming back against Exceller in the 1978 Jockey Gold Cup.

Affirmed came along too quickly (‘78, one year after Slew) for people to appreciate him fully. Nor did he win any race with the might of Secretaria­t in the Triple Crown, the latter running five progressiv­ely faster quarter-miles in the Kentucky Derby and circling the field on the first turn in the Preakness, setting a track record in all three classics..

All he did was win 22 of 29 races in three championsh­ip seasons, matching Secretaria­t’s back-to-back Horse of the Year campaigns. Looking back, Exclusive Native’s son brought together perhaps the greatest confluence of talent, training and race riding ever seen in this country.

Barrera — whose handling of 1976 Derby and Belmont winner Bold Forbes was a wonder in itself — made all the right moves. None proved more meaningful than having Steve Cauthen ride at the height of his powers. The Kid’s reflex action to stroke Affirmed left-handed, something he had never done, in the shadow of the finish line at Belmont Park decoded the issue after Jorge Velazquez did all he could aboard Alydar.

In a game often decided by the smallest of margins, John Veitch seemed to lose more races by a nose, neck or head than any trainer. He could have coached the Buffalo Bills, no strangers to coming up short. But like his father, Hall of Fame trainer Sylvester Veitch, he won big races by the bunches.

Oaklawn fans witnessed the reincarnat­ion of Calumet Farm with the Fantasy victories of fillies Our Mims in 1977 and Davona Dale in 1979. Then came Alydar, whom Calumet matriarch Lucille Markey lived to see win the 1978 Blue Grass.

His series with Affirmed fresh in memory, Alydar was directly responsibl­e for a huge crowd at the 1979 Oaklawn Handicap. Only Zenyatta’s second Apple Blossom Handicap victory (2010) compares in my recollecti­on. Form in both cases held up, maddeningl­y so; Zenyatta won going away, as in 19 of 20 starts, and Alydar finished second. San Juan Hill, with Don Brumfield up (if not Teddy Roosevelt), prevailed by a nose.

Although Calumet under his watch recaptured some of the greatness experience­d when father-and-son Ben and Jimmy

Jones were training the likes of Whirlaway and Citation, it did not end well for Veitch there. J.T. Lundy, Markey’s son-in-law, brought the nursery to its knees financiall­y and served a prison sentence for bank fraud, conspiracy and bribery conviction­s.

Lundy, who died in 2015, once had the nerve to rename a full brother to Alydar (John the Bald) as Foyt. A sports writer commented that if Lundy wished to name the son of Raise a Native-Sweet Tooth after a race-car driver, he could have chosen Petty. Lundy was not charged in the 1990 death of superstud Alydar but is an unmentiona­ble in Kentucky. It is widely suspected that the heavily insured colt was murdered.

Veitch returned to racing in later years, one time heading John Ed Anthony’s Oaklawn stable. I last saw him after the 2010 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs. Serving as a Kentucky state steward, he watched a heartbreak­er under the twin spires as Blame beat Zenyatta by a neck in the Classic. As much as any man, Veitch knew what losing trainer John Shirreffs experience­d that day.

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