John Veitch (Coady Photography)
By Jim Reisler – NYRA Press Office
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) mourns the passing of Hall of Fame trainer John Veitch, who was instrumental in reviving Calumet Farm to prominence, but is perhaps best remembered as the trainer of Alydar, who in 1978 narrowly lost all three Triple Crown races to rival Affirmed in one of thoroughbred racing’s most storied rivalries.
Mr. Veitch died Tuesday in Lexington, Kentucky. He was 77.
In his nearly 30-year career, Veitch trained Before Dawn, Davona Dale, Our Mims and Sunshine Forever, all Eclipse Award winners, Davona Dale and Alydar both enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Though Alydar finished second in the three Triple Crown races, the Calumet Farm homebred won six Grade 1 races, including the 1978 Travers, beating Affirmed via disqualification.
“That rivalry really introduced John to a very wide public,” said Mr. Veitch’s second cousin Michael Veitch, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s historian and chairman of its Historical Review Committee. “John had gone out on his own some years before, but Alydar-Affirmed revealed to the the sports public the kind of ambassador to racing that John was. He represented the sportsmanship and the tradition of racing as the two great champions faced each other.”
The son of Hall of Fame trainer Sylvester Veitch and grandson of Silas Veitch, another trainer, Veitch won a total of 410 races in his career, including 76 graded stakes – 31 of them Grade 1 races – and 93 overall stakes. He was instrumental in the revitalization of historic Calumet Farm and achieved success as trainer for another historic stable, Darby Dan.
Davona Dale won the Kentucky Oaks and Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for Calumet; and also won New York’s version of the Filly Triple Crown by taking the Acorn, Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks. Veitch’s wins in New York included some of the country’s most prestigious races, from the Alabama, Whitney, Ballerina and Diana at Saratoga Race Course to the Met Mile and Champagne [Alydar over Affirmed] at Belmont Park.
Over the course of his career, Veitch also trained for Darby Dan Farm and family members of John Galbreath, who owned Darby Dan, as well as Frances A. Genter. He trained Proud Truth, the winner of the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Classic, for Darby Dan. In 1998, he retired to become a consultant to Saudi Arabia’s royal family, but returned to training in the U.S. in 2001, taking on the new owner of Calumet, Henryk de Kwiatkowski, as a client, before retiring from training in 2004.
But it was the Alydar vs. Affirmed rivalry, racing’s equivalent of Ali vs. Frazier or Yankees vs. Red Sox, for which Veitch is best known to racing fans. Affirmed beat Alydar by 1 1/2-lengths in the 1978 Kentucky Derby, by a neck in the Preakness and by a head in the Belmont Stakes. In the Belmont Stakes, Alydar, ridden by Jorge Velásquez, and Affirmed with Steven Cauthen aboard, raced side by side from the middle of the far turn all the way to the wire.
Battling through the last 220 yards – with “[Affirmed’s] right eye rolling back to watch his rival, like Moby Dick peering back at Ahab lashed to his side,” as William Nack wrote, Affirmed barely held on for the Triple Crown – a duel captured by Sports Illustrated in a memorable cover shot.
The Belmont Stakes set up the 10th and final match-up of the two horses – Alydar would win three of those races – at the 1978 Travers in Saratoga. Emotions were high headed into the 109th Travers. Facing older horses in the Whitney, two weeks before the Travers, Alydar romped by 10 lengths. Three days later on a muddy track in the Jim Dandy, Affirmed had a tougher prep, rallying to overcome Allen Jerkens’ Sensitive Prince to win by a half-length.
Affirmed was sent off the 7-10 favorite before a then-record Saratoga crowd of 50,122. Shortly after the half-mile post, Affirmed dropped in sharply on Alydar, causing Alydar to take up abruptly. Affirmed easily held off Alydar through the stretch. But after an inquiry, the stewards reversed the finish, declaring Alydar the winner and Affirmed second.
Veitch followed his father into the Hall of Fame, inducted in 2007. “I have been truly blessed all of my life,” he said that day. “The lifelong experience in being involved with wonderful horses and wonderful people will be foremost in my heart forever. All my success can be attributed to those I worked for and with.”
Veitch is survived by a daughter, Shannon, and a son, Jason.