Steve Cauthen sees comparisons between Affirmed, the colt he rode to the 1978 Triple Crown as a fresh-faced 18-year-old youngster, and I'll Have Another , poised to become the first 3-year-old to do it since.
Cauthen, known at the time as "The Kid," can also relate what to the "new-kid-on-the-block" Mario Gutierrez is going through after guiding I'll Have Another to close wins over Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
“I guess I'm having a flashback,” Cauthen told The Associated Press May 20 from his breeding farm in Verona, Ky. “He's a new kid on the block like I was. The kid's got a great attitude and a great smile. And, like me, he's been put in a position to ride in these kinds of races and a shot at maybe winning the Triple Crown. And the trainer and owner (Doug O'Neill and Paul Reddam) have confidence in him."
"That's important, because Laz (Barrera, Affirmed's trainer) and Mr. Wolfson (owner Louis Wolfson) were 100 percent behind me.
He believes the Reddam Racing colt, like Affirmed a striking chestnut, can deliver.
Cauthen said I'll Have Another is relaxed and takes things in stride, just like Affirmed did in defeating Alydar by diminishing margins in the '78 Triple Crown chase. The series ended in a showdown that ranks as one of the all-time great races, with Affirmed defeating his rival by a head to secure the sweep.
“Horses that seem to come out of their races pretty well, it means they don't bother themselves, and that's a huge benefit when you've got three tough races,” Cauthen said. “It's like three title fights in five weeks. You are taking on the best around. With Affirmed, he always did the right thing. He didn't waste any energy. And when it came down to a battle, he thrived on it.
“This horse (I'll Have Another) looks like he's got that fighting spirit. He likes a game, and he wants to win and he can't wait to get another battle. He thrives on it and to me that's why more than anything he's got a good chance.”
Affirmed's Triple Crown came a year after Seattle Slew accomplished the same feat and was the third since Secretariat in 1973. Even so, the build-up to the Belmont Stakes was excruciating, Cauthen recalled.
“These three weeks will be the longest of their lives,” he said. “Every day they wake up, they have to make sure nothing goes wrong, that when he comes back from a gallop something doesn't happen to him, like he steps on a stone or something silly. No matter what you do, there's always going to be pressure, probably even more so now after 34 years without a Triple Crown.”