1999 Cigar Mile victory with Affirmed Success among soon-to-be retired Rick Schosberg’s career highlights
Affirmed Success on his way into the 1999 Cigar Mile Handicap history books. (NYRA)
By Ryan Martin
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – As trainer Rick Schosberg calls it a career at the end of 2022, the widely respected horseman has had time to reflect on some of the shining moments of his 35-year tenure of conditioning thoroughbreds. Among these merits are a redeeming victory in the 1999 Cigar Mile with Affirmed Success, who earned one of his three Grade 1 victories in that year’s running of the perennial final Grade 1 event in New York.
Schosberg enjoyed successful runs with Grade 1-winning distaffer Mossflower as well as 1995 Champion 2-Year-Old Maria’s Mon, who would go on to produce Kentucky Derby winners Monarchos  and Super Saver . But Albert Fried, Jr.’s Affirmed Success remains the horse that Schosberg is most synonymous with.
“I remember everything about him. There’s not a thing I don’t remember about him,” Schosberg said.
A 17-time winner who raced from ages 3-to-9 while earning at least one win through each year in training, Affirmed Success established himself as the textbook warhorse, maintaining good form through six straight seasons. One of his most remarkable accomplishments was recording a triple digit Beyer Speed Figure in 38-of-42 lifetime starts, giving him more triple-digit Beyers than Hall of Famers Skip Away , Best Pal , Serena’s Song  and Cigar .
“Most horses don’t even run 42 times, so 38 out of 42 is just phenomenal,” Schosberg said.
Affirmed Success, a son of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, was a clear-cut winner of his first three career starts under Jorge Chavez before trying stakes company for the first time in the 1997 Jim Dandy, finishing a pacesetting third beaten four lengths by Awesome Again. He followed with a distant seventh in the 10-furlong Travers which caused Schosberg to focus Affirmed Success on shorter races for the remainder of the horse’s career.
“When you have a horse by Affirmed that was gradually winning at increasing distances, you have to think they could get longer distances,” Schosberg said. “He was unbeaten going into the Jim Dandy. When he gave it up and finished third, we thought maybe he just wasn’t seasoned. So, we took a shot in the Travers, and we got caught in a speed duel and that didn’t work out. We did the right thing with him. We stopped on him and readjusted.”
Affirmed Success delivered on his early promise in his 4-year-old campaign, kicking off 1998 with an open-lengths allowance score ahead of a pair of runner-up efforts at graded-stakes level to six-furlong specialist Kelly Kip. He made his next two starts at seven furlongs, recording a career-best 120 Beyer with an eight-length romp in the Grade 2 Forego over sloppy going at Saratoga followed by a victory in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park.
Affirmed Success was made the post-time favorite for that year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint traveling six furlongs at Churchill Downs, but after getting caught in a four-horse speed duel, Affirmed Success faltered to a sixth-place finish with the victorious Reraise garnering Champion Sprinter honors.
“He gave us some high expectations that year,” Schosberg recalled. “In 1998, he had such a great year, and we were disappointed in the Breeders’ Cup, but he wasn’t a six-furlong horse and Kelly Kip would be the first horse to tell you that. At six furlongs, he beat us just about every time and at seven furlongs we would beat him every time. We went in there as the favorite, but we went in to the Breeders’ Cup with the curse of the Vosburgh going from seven to six [furlongs], so we ended with a tough loss in the Breeders’ Cup.
“He was a ‘tweener,” Schosberg added. “Six furlongs was too short, and he wasn’t a great miler, but under certain circumstances, he could get the mile. He was a seven-furlong specialist. The Forego, the Vosburgh; in those races, he was always right there.”
Although Affirmed Success demonstrated high-level capability during his 5-year-old year in 1999, he was forced to play the bridesmaid in several important races at his ideal seven-furlong distance, including the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, where he was beaten 3 1/4 lengths as the favorite by Artax. After finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Met Mile, he finished second in the seven-furlong Grade 2 Tom Fool to Crafty Friend before coming up a neck short to the John Kimmel trainee once more in his title defense of the Grade 2 Forego.
“That was a tough beat,” Schosberg said. “They were head and head the whole race. He was a head in front of us the whole way and stayed there. At seven furlongs, only Crafty Friend was his equal. We traded shots with him – we beat him and he beat us.”
While Affirmed Success was without a win so far that year, his campaign was still productive enough to merit an opportunity at the Breeders’ Cup at Gulfstream Park. He was one of three horses to be saddled by Schosberg, who also entered Mossflower in the inaugural Filly and Mare Turf and Catienus – a $50,000 claim that April – in the Classic. On a “tough day” according to Schosberg, Affirmed Success was no factor in the Sprint, finishing 12th a dozen lengths behind Artax, while Mossflower and Catienus finished a respective seventh and 13th.
But Schosberg believed Affirmed Success wasn’t done yet and that his stable star had one more performance left in him that year.
“It was one of those things where his weight was good, he was doing well, and we knew we were going to give him the winter off,” Schosberg said. “Under the circumstances, it worked out. Sometimes, things just work out and it worked out. I think the stars aligned perfectly for us. Most of the time they don’t, but when they do, you remember it and take advantage of it.”
A field of eight others awaited Affirmed Success in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, carded for Saturday, November 27, 1999. Six of his competitors were entering off a win, including Grade 2 Wood Memorial winner and Triple Crown alumnus Adonis; graded-stakes winner Scatmandu, and last-out allowance winners Honorifico, Liberty Gold and Yankee Victor. But his biggest concern was his old rival Crafty Friend, who bypassed the Breeders’ Cup following his fifth as the favorite in the Forego and entered the Cigar Mile a fresher horse. He was assigned a field-high 119 pounds under Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, carrying one pound more than Affirmed Success. Of the nine Cigar Mile aspirants, Affirmed Success was the only one without a victory that year.
The day was a wet one at Aqueduct, which saw muddy track conditions throughout the racing program. That card saw Michael Tabor’s Left Bank, the subsequent 2001 Cigar Mile winner and 2002 Champion Older Horse, finish second in his career debut – a six-furlong maiden special weight. In stakes action, Fox Hill Farms’ Jostle won her fourth straight in the Grade 2 Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies, while Grade 1 Champagne winner Greenwood Lake, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito, was a late-closing winner of the Grade 2 Remsen.
Breaking from post 3, Affirmed Success was a close third under Chavez only one length off a pacesetting Yankee Victor and Crafty Friend through swift opening fractions of 22.44 and 44.65 through the mud. Affirmed Success made a move in between horses around the turn and was at a one-length advantage through three-quarters in 1:08.88. In the stretch drive, Affirmed Success’ authority was never in question as he widened to a five-length triumph in a final time of 1:34.18. Adonis made up a dozen lengths in sixth from the stretch call to finish second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Honorifico. Crafty Friend finished fourth.
Affirmed Success earned a 109 Beyer from the Cigar Mile victory and banked $210,000, which brought his earnings up to $934,980. He reached millionaire status with a win in the Grade 2 General George at Laurel Park to commence his 2000 campaign.
“He was one of those unique specialists where you have a high-cruising speed that he could carry over the extra furlong,” Schosberg said. “Fractions like 22, 45 are six-furlong fractions, but a horse that can carry that at seven-eighths or in the slop going a mile are the really solid types of horses. He galloped them to death and the rest of them were chasing and trying to catch up.
“That’s why it took such a good effort to beat him,” Schosberg continued. “When you lose and can still run a triple-digit Beyer, it takes a nice one to beat you. He ran 38 triple digit Beyers. He didn’t win all 38 of those races but even the losing efforts were fantastic. He was just a tremendous horse. He was sound and he loved to train.”
Affirmed Success built on his accolades through the remainder of his career, which saw him display surface versatility with a heavily turf-based season in 2000. Following a close third as the favorite in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, Affirmed Success was triumphant in his first try on turf in the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont Park. He went on to race four more times on turf that year, including a third in the Grade 1 Atto Mile at Woodbine and a game fourth beaten a neck in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. In his final start that season, he was third to 3-year-old El Corredor in the Cigar Mile.
Affirmed Success enjoyed three more prosperous seasons on the track, including a win in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap during his 8-year-old season in 2002. He retired in 2003 with a record of 42-17-10-6 and earnings of $2,285,315.
“He was a career horse. A once-in-a-career horse. You can talk all about these big trainers with all their superstars, but for a guy that trained 20-25 horses at a time his entire career, that’s a career horse right there,” Schosberg said. “He didn’t win an Eclipse Award. He was runner-up [in 1998] because he got beat in the Breeders’ Cup, but he’s still a career horse. He’s a horse that for 6-to-7 years, you wanted to get right to the barn and see him. You knew he was always going to put in a good effort if the circumstances were right. At one time I think his name was up here in the Aqueduct paddock twice at the same time. He won the Cigar Mile and the Carter.”
Affirmed Success earned a well-deserved retirement at two of the best spots for former racehorses: the Kentucky Horse Park and Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. He passed in February at age 28 due to chronic hoof infections.
“He deserved a great retirement,” Schosberg said. “We were honored that they took great care of him. He lived a great life.”
The conditioner’s credentials are widely recognized by many industry leaders, including New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association (NYTHA) President Joe Applebaum, who also spoke of his affinity for the Schosberg-trained Maria’s Mon as a sire. Applebaum, via his pinhooking operation Off The Hook, purchased multiple Grade 1-winning champion filly Informed Decision, by Monarchos – a son of Maria’s Mon.
“The work he did with Affirmed Success was lights out as well as with Mossflower, and then there was Maria’s Mon, who influenced the breed,” Applebaum said. “I had a soft spot for that line because I bought a Monarchos filly years ago for $150,000. People thought we were nuts, but we sold her for more money, and she went on to win the  Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.”
Schosberg said he will remain busy during his retirement, putting a lot of time and energy into his role as president of the Take The Lead program, which rehomes and rehabilitates retiring New York-based horses. Schosberg also serves on the board for NYTHA, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) and the Harry M. Zweig Memorial Fund for Equine Research at Cornell University.
“I’m just taking a step sideways,” Schosberg said. “I have family things that need my attention and a family business that has nothing to do with horses that needs my attention as well. I explained to people that I’m not bailing out and that I have a lot of other things that will take up a lot of time. I think the timing is right. It was either going to be this year or next year and I think my mother needs some attention and I could use a little more sleep.”
Applebaum described Schosberg’s commitment to horse racing as “without equal.”
“More than that, his decency as a man and always trying to do the right thing regardless of if it’s in his self-interest is refreshing,” Applebaum said. “He logs so many hours, I don’t think people understand. He’s also on the board of TAA, he’s always there for worker welfare and to report on the condition of the backstretch, and with what’s happening on track. He has to be back there every morning and answer questions from trainers. When you ask him a question, you know you’re getting his best answer. You aren’t just getting a self-interested answer. He thinks about what’s best for the backstretch and what’s best for horse racing. That’s refreshing and that’s the sort of person you want on your board.”
Schosberg’s service and stewardship to racing is held in high regard by other industry leaders, including the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, Inc. (NYTB) Executive Director Najja Thompson.
“Rick and his family have always been an integral part of New York breeding and racing,” said Thompson. “From his late father Paul, who served as a President of NYTB and helped to form the foundation and success of the New York-bred program, to Rick who has affirmed his own legacy as an astute horseman and leading advocate for aftercare. Rick has always put our equine athletes first and we are lucky to have someone with his dedication and determination making our industry better in all aspects.”
NYTB President Thomas Gallo III, who is managing partner of Dream Maker Racing and owns Blue Stone Farm, also spoke warmly of Schosberg’s success on and off the track.
“His dad was president of NYTB, and he and I were on the board together. He was a very eloquent and intelligent man and Rick has been fabulous,” Gallo said. “He is very active with retired horses and he’s one of the great talents and faces of New York racing and he’s a super nice guy. He’s honest, straightforward and a great guy to speak to and be on committees and boards with. He’s very pro-horse and is for the best things for New York breeding and racing.”
Schosberg expressed gratitude for what he has achieved through his training career and said he looks forward to beginning a new chapter.
“I’m leaving training with a great feeling, and I was freezing out there on that pony this morning!” he said.