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Steve Cauthen remembers the last Triple Crown

Affirmed on the inside, Steve Cauthen up, wins the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown, ahead of Alydar, Jorge Velasquez up

The best living symbol of horse racing’s Holy Grail was on the phone this week, keeping the hope and vision alive. In 1978, Steve Cauthen was to the American sports scene what Jordan Spieth is now. He was a bright, new athletic face, destined for magazine covers and history books.

At age 21, Spieth won the Masters. Not unthinkable, but certainly amazing.

At age 18, Cauthen won the Triple Crown. More unthinkable and amazing. Cauthen is a lone wolf. His moment was 37 years ago. He rode Affirmed to victory in all three of racing’s jewels, and all three, were, well, a real horse race. He won the Kentucky Derby by a length and a half, the Preakness by a neck and the Belmont by a head. His cumulative Triple Crown margin of victory was less than two lengths.

Every year since then the Triple Crown has become sort of a definitive symbol of racing’s frustration. Winning it seems as unreachable as the sport it represents returning to the American sports mainstream. The question of whether a successful Triple Crown bid can get racing back on the front page has become a moot point for almost four decades. Nobody will know until it happens, and it sure hasn’t.

Cauthen could relish his exclusivity and hope he goes to his grave as a symbol of the final days of racing’s wine and roses.

To his credit, he does not.

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