Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Affirmed: The last Triple Crown Winner – Lou Sahadi Interview

Posted by Brian Appleton on August 2, 2011

Successful author Lou Sahadi has penned more than twenty sports related titles, including Johnny Unitas: America’s Quarterback and One Sunday in December. While most of his works are related to baseball and football and he knew virtually nothing about thoroughbred horse racing, he was intrigued when the idea was proposed to write a biography on 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed. It took him just two days to decide he would tackle the project.


Mr. Sahadi brings the unique perspective of a sportsman and not just a horseman to his interpretation of the Affirmed story. He presents it in an easy to understand format that racing and non-racing fans will enjoy. Sahadi has a gift for engaging his readers with the story’s supporting characters, in particular readers will be drawn to the incredible story of young Steve Cauthen.


I read Affirmed: The Last Triple Crown Winner and found it well-written and very engaging. Many racing biographies tend to get bogged down in boring human relations or too many facts while missing the mark on the equine action. Sahadi succeeds in keeping Affirmed and Alydar the main focus of his story without getting lost in boring side stories.


I recently was able to interview Mr. Sahadi about his book:


Me:  What inspired you to write about Affirmed?

LS: The biggest thing was that it was a challenge.  I had written 24 books, all in the baseball and football genre, when my literary agent presented me with the project about Affirmed. I was honest in telling her that I don’t know anything about horses.  I slept on it and two days later decided it was a challenge. That I would do it.


Me: What was your favorite part of the book to write?

LS: 0ne of my favorite moments was meeting the jockey, Steve Cauthen, in Lexington, KY.  He was the only one alive from that magical 1978 year.  Affirmed’s owner was dead and so was the trainer and Steve helped immensely in filling a void.


Me: Who is your favorite character involved in the Affirmed Story?

LS: Steve of course.  What he had done in winning the Triple Crown is unprecedented in racing history.  He won the Kentucky Derby just five days after he turned 18 years old.  In racing circles Steve was only a baby who calmly won the three biggest races in the sport.


Me: How long did it take to compile the historical facts and write a rough draft?

LS: It took about a year.  But I had good resources for my material which made it easier, along with wonderful cooperation from the horseracing industry.


Me: What was the most interesting part of the Affirmed/Alydar story to research?

LS: I think the Belmont.  Cauthen, with Affirmed, had won the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, but the most challenging bauble was the Belmont, a 1 1/2 mile endurance race. The home stretch of the Belmont has been a graveyard for thoroughbreds. Could Cauthen hold on and rate Affirmed for that final stretch, and withstand a challenge from Alydar?


Me: Which parts of the book were the most difficult/easy to write.

LS: The most difficult part was Affirmed’s early years as a yearling.  There was no one around who could provide any details.  The Triple Crown races were well chronicled and the information readily accessible.


Me: Did you get to personally meet with any of the people connected with the Affirmed story while researching for the book?

LS: Just Steve Cauthen


Me: What are some of the methods you employ to keep the main story line moving while profiling some of the supporting characters that enter during the course of the book?

LS: What I had to do was develop continuity with all the principals involved, and I feel I did just that.  I refrained from being too technical which is boredom, and just let my material flow naturally.  I have to say, “Affirmed…The Last Triple Crown”, is an easy read and one doesn’t have to know anything about racing to enjoy it.


Me: What books and writers have had the biggest impact on the way you write?

LS: In the sports arena I have to give a nod to Dabe Anderson of the New York Times, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated and Mark Kriegel of Fox Sports.  In the literary field I recoginize John Grisham.


Me: How did you decide on the title?

LS: The editor at St. Martins Press accounted for it.


Me: Who do you feel is the greatest Triple Crown winner in history?

LS: Affirmed without question.  What makes him so, was that he had a pressurized challenge in all the races from Alydar and his veteran jockey Jorge Velasquez.  The combined total victory margin for the three races was something like a length and a quarter, miniscule.  It doesn’t get any closer that that


Me: How does the rivalry of Affirmed and Alydar stack up to the other great rivalries in horse racing in your opinion?

LS: I haven’t been around racing that much, but again let me emphasize, how can  any other rivalry equate that of Affirmed and Alydar?


Me: Will you be working on any other books that deal with thoroughbred horse racing in the future?

LS: Not at the present.  But I would like to do another in racing now that I got my ears wet.


Me: Do you have any projects you are currently working on?

LS: Nothing definitive.  I have some ideas but it’s too early to relate.  Need to do more research.


Me: What else do you want your readers to know about the book?

LS: That it was truly a labor of love.  I wish I had been around in l978 and absorbed the excitement that Affirmed and Alydar created.  But I think I managed to capture it through my writing and I did receive good reviews for it.


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