WAVE 3 talks with two men involved in one of sports greatest rivalries

Jockeys Jorge Velasquez (left) and Steve Cauthen
Jockeys Jorge Velasquez (left) and Steve Cauthen

By Caton Bredar

LOUISVILLE (WAVE) -- Saturday, May 3rd marks the 30th anniversary of Affirmed's historic win in the Kentucky Derby, en route to becoming the 11th and most recent Triple Crown winner. But throughout the entire three race series, a horse named Alydar finished second. For the jockeys involved, Steve Cauthen on Affirmed and Jorge Velasquez on Alydar, it was about a lot more than just winning and losing. WAVE3's Caton Bredar talked with both Cauthen and Velasquez, as well as some of the other principals involved.

The two horses, Affirmed and Alydar, were fierce competitors who brought out the best in each other. Jorge Velasquez says they were like "Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier", with Alydar playing Frazier and always getting the toughest Affirmed had to offer, but generally winding up on the losing end. But while the horses battled tooth and nail on the racetrack, the jockeys were actually good friends from the very start.

At age 17, Cauthen first met Velasquez in the jockey's room at Belmont Park in New York.

"He saw this little, scrawny kid," Cauthen recalls now from his Dreamfields Farm in Northern Kentucky. "But he was always friendly, right from the beginning."

"I took him under my wings," Velasquez counters almost jokingly. "I tried to help him out with everything I could."

Cauthen consistently beat the veteran Velasquez that first season they rode together, but the friendship persevered. The next year, fate threw them together into the history books as the only one-two finishers for every leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.

Through the roller coaster ride of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore and the Belmont in New York, the jockeys remained friendly rivals, a friendship that continues to this day. John Veitch, the trainer of Velasquez's mount, Alydar, believes the rivalry brought out the best in everyone involved, particularly the jockeys.

"There was never any animosity, there was never any jealousy," Veitch, now an official for the Kentucky tracks, explains. "It was a class act on everyone's parts."

The act was reunited recently, at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky. A trade publication, Bloodhorse Magazine, brought Velasquez in from his home in New York to sit down with Cauthen and relive the three legs of the Triple Crown.

"We just thought with the 30th anniversary of Affirmed and Alydar...was perfect," explains Features Editor Lenny Shulman. "And of course, every year we're reminded that this Triple Crown hasn't happened since 1978, which I think makes it take on even more significance."

For Shulman, one of the biggest revelations came from the runner-up in the epic battle.

"I think Jorge Velazquez has been so under-appreciated, so far as the publicity that it's just a joy to try and get these two guys together," he says.

The complete interview is available on the Bloodhorse website. And while racing fans relive a special moment in history, good friends relive a special history all their own.

"It's something that will stay in our mind, and our life," says Cauthen, "for the rest of our life."

Both the memories and the friendship.

WAVE 3 will air a special half-hour, commercial free presentation "The Legend Re-Affirmed" on Thursday at 7:30 pm.

Online Reporter:  Caton Bredar

Online Producer: Charles Gazaway