SARATOGA SPRINGS — The first time he raced, he broke slow, then made up his own mind to simply bull his way through the horses in front of him as jockey Jorge Chavez screamed at his fellow riders in warning: “Get out of the way, I ain’t got him!”
Toward the end of his career, five long years later, the horse needed some amount of urging from his jockey to get through the hole this time, “but he went all in. Man,” Richard Migliore marveled in recollection two weeks ago.
“And it turned out it was slightly premature, but it also secured my position, I was able to get through, and he kicked clear.
“The last 70 yards he was on fumes. But the race was won.”
Between those two victories, Affirmed Success built an outstanding career that was commemorated by a race at Aqueduct named for him in 2012 and is recalled with affection by his trainer, Rick Schosberg, and Migliore, Affirmed Success’ regular rider for the twilight of the horse’s seven-year, 42-race career.
As we head into a big closing weekend at Saratoga Race Course, it’s worth looking back at Affirmed Success, who died in February at the age of 28 at the Old Friends racehorse retirement facility in Lexington, Kentucky.
One of his biggest victories came in the 1998 Forego, which was run on closing day back then before being shifted to Travers Day, and it helped propel Affirmed Success to a career that included a record of 17-10-6 from 42 starts for almost $2.3 million in purse earnings. Remarkably, the son of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed competed at the Breeders’ Cup four years in a row, twice in the Sprint and twice on the turf in the Mile, and posted triple-digit Beyer speed figures in 38 of 42 lifetime starts.
“You know what, he was so diverse,” Schosberg said on Travers Day morning last Saturday. “In his 3-year-old year, we thought we had a [Kentucky] Derby horse.
“He was undefeated going into the Jim Dandy, and he ran a decent third and kind of looked like he was distance-limited. He had the lead turning for home. We took a shot in the Travers and he got caught up in a pretty hot pace. We brought him back the following year, and that’s when he established himself as a top sprinter.”
“It was really a lot of fun to be associated with a horse like him, and a horse I had admired for so many years,” Migliore said. “Beat him a couple times, chased him more times than I beat him, probably.
“It kind of felt appropriate, because we were both kind of synonymous with New York racing. You get two older, beat-up veterans late in their career.
“And he did it turf, dirt. You always hear, ‘Oh, this horse would run over broken bottles,’ that sort of thing. He literally would run through a brick wall for you.”
Affirmed Success ran in 18 Grade I races, winning the 1998 Vosburgh, 1999 Cigar Mile and 2002 Carter, all at Aqueduct (the Forego was upgraded to Grade I in 2001). A true throwback to another time, he became the oldest horse to win the Toboggan, in 2002 at the age of 8, and the only reason he doesn’t have to share that record with three 8-year-olds who have won it since is that Affirmed Success won it again at 9.
He was a graded stakes winner on the turf, and won three of six starts at Saratoga, including the 1998 Forego on a track that was so sloppy that morning on closing day that Schosberg wasn’t sure if the card wouldn’t be canceled.
“On the backstretch, the racetrack and the road next to the racetrack was one river,” he said. “We thought they weren’t even going to get the races in. I remember coming in at 4 o’clock in the morning, and it was like driving through a river.
“Luckily for us they did, and he loved the slop. He won the Cigar Mile in the mud, also.”
The 1997 Travers was a turning point for Affirmed Success, who was bred and owned by Schosberg’s long-time client, Alfred Fried, Jr.
He was undefeated coming into the Jim Dandy and finished third to Awesome Again, which wasn’t enough to discourage the Affirmed Success camp from taking a big distance leap in the mile-and-a-fourth Travers, instead of running in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop (since renamed the Allen Jerkens).
After dueling with 68-1 bomb Twin Spires early in the Travers, Affirmed Success faded to seventh to Deputy Commander, and then it was time to pivot to shorter races.
“We thought, with his pedigree, being by Affirmed, let’s see what we got,” Schosberg said. “Obviously, if we knew what we knew the following year, it [King’s Bishop] would’ve been better. When you have a 3-year-old bred like that and shows he can get the two turns, at least well enough, take a stab.”
Affirmed Success’ 1998 Forego victory led to a win in the Vosburgh, but he was sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, at six furlongs, which cemented the idea that he was a seven-furlong specialist who didn’t have the pure footspeed for six, Schosberg said.
As a 5-year-old in 1999, Affirmed Success was winless from five starts, including a second in the Forego and a 12th in the BC Sprint, but closed out the season with a win in the Cigar Mile.
At 6, he started to see more turf racing, and was a very close fourth to War Chant in the BC Mile.
“Having a horse with that kind of diversity really made my job a lot easier,” Schosberg said. “Plus, he was sound. That horse never even had an ice boot on. Honestly, I think the only time we put poultice on was after a breeze and after a work. And if he got a little cranky, a little body-sore, then we’d just send him back to the farm.
“But as he got older, when he was 8 and the Breeders’ Cup was no longer in our sights, we stuck to the seven-eighths races. He wasn’t great at a mile; he was great at seven. Period, end of story, great at seven. Almost unbeatable.
“It [Carter] was the one Grade I, seven-furlong race we hadn’t won, and here is, 8 years old, and what an incredible day that was.
“He was a career racehorse. Not too many small trainers can say they had a horse like that. Especially these days.”
At 9, Affirmed Success won the Toboggan again, but when he finished fifth in the Carter, it looked like time to call it a career, Schosberg said.
A gelding with no future in breeding, Affirmed Success spent most of his retirement at Old Friends.
“He had kind of shown that all of that was catching up with him,” Migliore said. “And Rick was always the guy, with what he does now with Thoroughbred retirement and aftercare, he always practiced that, even with his horses. With this horse, any little thing, pull the plug, freshen him, give him time. That’s why he was able to last that long.
“But he was a big, rugged horse. Rugged horse. He was tough and had a little bit of a mean streak in him, which a lot of good horses do. But the best word to describe him is ‘rugged.’ Not a kid’s horse.
“I visited him a bunch of times. Sweeter, kinder, gentler. I don’t think he really liked me a great deal when I was riding him, because as you get older you kind of had to demand it a little more from him. He’d give it to you, but he would hold a grudge a little bit. I would go to work him, and he would hear me and pin his ears.”
“He didn’t hate anybody. He was just BS-ing him,” Schosberg said with a laugh. “He’d lay his ears back, and then as soon as he saw you, you look at him, he’d put his ears right back.
“He was so smart, really cognizant of his surroundings and himself, he had a very intelligent eye. It was large eye, but it was light brown and you could see all the structures in his eye, which was really neat. But I watched him in the race before the Forego here, in the warm-up, and he stopped. And he used to stop and look around, even when he was warming up in the morning.
“He was staring at an airplane, and I’m thinking he’s trying to figure out how that works. This is how smart this horse is. Right before a race, ‘How is that staying up there? Oh, well. Let’s go warm up and run.’
“But that’s the way he was.”
BROWN’S COURT APPEARANCE POSTPONED
Trainer Chad Brown’s next court appearance has been rescheduled from this Friday to 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 16, at the Saratoga County Court House.
He is facing a misdemeanor charge of criminal obstruction of breathing following an alleged domestic violence incident at his Saratoga Springs home on Aug. 17.
After being arrested by Saratoga Springs police, he spent the night in jail and pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on Aug. 18.