Alydar treated his final hours like a race with Affirmed, and this was his greatest eulogy.
Yet no matter how fine a marker they etch for his grave at Calumet Farm, there will never be room for the whole story.
This was a horse whose final hours were as much an inspiration as they were a tragedy. When the dirt had been smoothed atop the grave where he was buried yesterday afternoon at Calumet Farm, the farm's president, J.T. Lundy, spoke as much in awe as with sadness for the 15-year-old horse.
"He was a game horse. He fought on through it," Lundy said, and he talked about the stallion's final hours. Just as Alydar never relented on the race track in his epic battles with Affirmed, he refused to surrender when he broke his leg in his stall Tuesday night.
The racing world held its breath in hope after Alydar's surgery Wednesday, when veterinarians grafted bone and fixed a plate to repair the broken leg.
"I think there was greater than a 50 percent chance" for his recovery, said Dr. William A. Baker, who conducted the surgery with Dr. Larry Bramlage. But a cruel, frustrating blow of fate signed Alydar's death warrant yesterday. Early in the morning, about 8 a.m., he was allowed to stand without the aid of his sling. He slipped and fell, breaking the same leg in another place, and dashing all hope for recovery.
The horse was humanely destroyed with a lethal injection at 8:30 a.m., and those who had worked without sleep for two days to save him must have felt the depths of helplessness in their frustration.
"What was so disheartening," said Lundy, "was that he was feeling good, and all of a sudden he slips and falls and it's all over in one whack.
"Most of them, when they get in a situation like this, they lose weight and draw up right away," he said. "He never did. He kept his class all the way through it. He was just tough."
The mind had to wander, hearing those words, to the days of spring 12 years ago when those two red warriors, Alydar and Affirmed, fought out a rivalry that transcended racing and spilled over to hold the interest of all who loved sports.
The records will always show that in 10 encounters the score stood 7-3 in favor of Affirmed, who won five Eclipse Awards while Alydar got none. But statistics can never revive that glimpse into the fire that burns in a horse's soul as Alydar tried and tried again to beat Affirmed. Those are only memories we will always hold dear in our hearts.
And so the mind wanders sadly, yet fondly, back to Churchill Downs for the first Saturday in May of 1978, when Affirmed beat Alydar for the fifth time in seven tries. Yet Alydar's fans will always wonder if he would have won the Kentucky Derby had he not been hit in the face with a clod of dirt.
He got hit in the eye going by the stands for the first time, throwing up his head in pain and dropping so far back that he seemed certain to finish last. But on that day Alydar gave us all a taste of the fighter in him, which would test Affirmed to his limits through the rest of the Triple Crown races. Alydar rallied from next-to-last to finish only 1 1/2 lengths behind Affirmed.
It was the farthest apart the two colts would finish in the series. Alydar caught Affirmed at the top of the stretch in the Preakness, and raced as a team with him to finish only a neck behind at the wire. In the Belmont Stakes, trainer John Veitch changed tactics and told jockey Jorge Velasquez to lay closer.
They hooked up after the first half mile and raced side by side for the remaining mile in one of the greatest displays of courage ever seen. Alydar gained the odd distinction as the only horse to run second in all the Triple Crown races.