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Affirmed jockey Cauthen watches American Pharoah from stands

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JUNE 10, 1978 FILE PHOTO/B&W ONLYAP

Affirmed on the inside, Steve Cauthen up, wins the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown, ahead of Alydar, Jorge Velasquez up, on June 10, 1978. Affirmed is the last horse to sweep all three races.

There were five horses in the Belmont Stakes field in the summer of ’78, although the jockey aboard Affirmed that Saturday says “really, it was only two,” when the horn sounded and the gates popped open.

Steve Cauthen was all of 18 years old in 1978, an age when most teenagers are headed to the prom. Cauthen ditched his tux in favor of racing tights, climbed aboard Affirmed and rode to Triple Crown glory after a scintillating, neck-and-neck battle with Alydar, the only other horse that mattered that day.

“Yeah, I was nervous. Obviously you have a chance to do something special. You don’t want to, basically, mess it up,” Cauthen, 55, told the Daily News on Saturday at Belmont Park, hours before American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed. “Considering all that, I think I kind of kept it all as best in perspective as I could and just focused on my horse, and how to ride him best, and my best chance at beating Alydar.”

Thirty-seven years after Cauthen made history at the Belmont — waging an entertaining, tense battle with Alydar down the stretch and winning by a head, after the two battled neck-and-neck and nose-to-nose in all three Triple Crown races — the former jockey knew American Pharoah would be the horse that would take its place alongside Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat and the other eight Triple Crown titans.

“Everybody wants to see something special,” Cauthen said. “He’s got Bob Baffert — there’s no better trainer around and certainly none with more experience than him that are trying to win this race.”

Cauthen wasn’t the only link to Triple Crown history on hand Saturday. Penny Chenery, 93, the owner of 1973 Triple Crown champion Secretariat, said simply: “I’m thrilled.”

FROSTED DOESN’T FLAKE

Wood Memorial winner Frosted was the lone runner to make a late move at American Pharoah, finishing second. “My horse ran great, but the horse everybody expected to win won the race,” jockey Joel Rosario said.

“My horse ran really great and we got second place. It’s exciting because we have not seen this for so long and the winner really looked brilliant.

“My horse showed that he is a really nice horse, and there will be lots of races down the road for my horse.”

Rosario won the Belmont in 2014 aboard Tonalist, denying California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid.

EVEN STEVENS

Jockey Gary Stevens, who has ridden three Belmont Stakes winners, was also full of compliments. “He ran a hell of a race,” said Stevens, who finished seventh aboard Tale of Verve.

“That’s a hell of a horse. The race was over in the third jump from the gate, it was over. It’s great to come back to a screaming crowd in a happy way instead of booing. It’s a pretty cool moment.”

Stevens won the Belmont Stakes in 1995 aboard Thunder Gulch, in 1998 aboard Victory Gallop — ending Real Quiet’s Triple Crown bid — and on Point Given in 2001, Baffert’s lone Belmont winner before American Pharoah.

CROWD CONTROL

With the attendance capped at 90,000, the Belmont Stakes was finally sold out late Friday night. The attendance was capped this year after the New York Racing Association couldn’t handle the 102,199 last year when concessions ran out of food and drinks and many in attendance had problems leaving the facility by public transportation or by automobile.

Nassau County Police said traffic was flowing steadily without delays on the parkways and the Hempstead Turnpike. 

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