Despite an unusually long rest due to uncharacteristically rainy weather in South Carolina, Affirmed began his three-year-old season with a victory at Santa Anita, followed by a win in the San Felipe Handicap.
After that, he defeated Balzac by eight lengths in the Santa Anita Derby. There was then only one race to win before he traveled back east: the Hollywood Derby. However, with little competition since Alydar was racing in the east coast, Affirmed began to develop bad habits. Whenever he was in the lead, he would mess around and waste time. This worried trainer Laz Barrera since the same thing had cost Affirmed the Champagne Stakes the year before. In spite of Barrera's worries, the Hollywood Derby proved no problem, and Affirmed, though slightly bored, managed to win by two lengths. After that, he went east and defeated Alydar in three classics.
|Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, with Alydar second and|
Believe It third. Credit
In the Preakness, Alydar was more on top of things. When Affirmed took the lead at the half mile mark, Alydar followed close behind, waiting for the right moment to make his move. As soon as the two entered the homestretch, they fought hard until Affirmed won by a neck. Believe placed third for the second time.
|Affirmed won the Belmont Stakes by a head in the closest|
Belmont victory since 1962, when Jaipur barely defeated
After a long and well-deserved rest, Affirmed once more won a race. In the Jim Dandy Stakes, he came from behind to beat Sensitive Prince, despite the slick track, carrying his winning streak to eight. However, he was unable to continue his streak to nine, as his fans had hoped. Although he came first in the Travers Stakes, he was disqualified for bumping Alydar.
Next, he raced Seattle Slew, the previous Triple Crown winner, in the Marlboro Cup. To his fans surprise, he hardly gave Slew a challenge. Later, after a vet inspection, his owner, jockey, and trainer found that a throat infection had been the cause of his poor performance.
In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the two met for the second time. Affirmed failed to win once his saddle slipped after battling with Seattle Slew for an early lead. Seattle Slew, though, also failed. He was in poor condition considering the length of the two mile race, so Exceller won by a nose, becoming the first horse to defeated two Triple Crown winners, let alone in one race.
Despite the fact that Affirmed had lost three times in a row: once because of poor health, another time due to to disqualification, and another due to tack failure, he was voted horse of the year. Lots of arguments followed that decision. Some people were outrage, thinking that Seattle Slew should have had the honors since he had defeated Affirmed---twice. Others believed that Affirmed had fair excuses for his failures. Nevertheless, Affirmed was 1978's Horse of the Year, and no argument could change that.