Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 42 Days to Go!!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 42 Days to Go!!

Seattle Slew, the $17,500 auction purchase that brought his owner’s so much more, became the first horse to win the Triple Crown while undefeated. The dark bay colt was bred by Ben Castleman and foaled in Kentucky, the offspring of Bold Reasoning and the stakes-winning Poker mare, My Charmer. Sent to Fasig-Tipton’s Summer Yearling Sale, the well-bred colt was purchased by veterinarian Dr. James Hill, who picked out Seattle Slew for the Taylor’s. Though the colt was owned by the partnership of Mickey and Karen Taylor with Jim and Sally Hill, “The Slew Crew”, he raced under Karen Taylor’s name. The new purchase would become known as “Baby Huey” due to his awkwardness while growing and would be trained for the majority of his career by former steeplechase jockey, Billy Turner.

His 2YO season wouldn’t start until September 20 due to his immaturity and growing into his frame. The wait would prove to be what he needed when he broke his maiden by 5 furlongs as the favorite.  Starting next in an allowance race, he would take the 7-furlong contest by 3 ½ lengths. Moving the promising juvenile to stakes company in the Champagne, Seattle Slew would face For The Moment, a full-brother to Honest Pleasure, who was coming into the race off of 4 straight victories. In the mile quest, Seattle Slew would go right to the front and open up a lead. Never feeling threatened, the dark bay just rolled away from the field, winning easily by 10 lengths while setting a new stakes record of 1:34 2/5. Though he only ran in three races during his freshman endeavor, the victories were impressive enough to earn him 2YO Championship honors.

Making his 3YO race debut on March 9 in a 7-furlong allowance, the speedy colt would set a track record even though he was eased up in the final sixteenth, passing the wire in 1:20 3/5. With victories in the Flamingo and the Wood Memorial, Seattle Slew would go into the Derby as the 1-2 favorite. Although he was favored, many believed that the Bold Reasoning colt wouldn’t be able to get the distance, especially with the slow works that he had been posting. The slow works were due to Turner’s knowing his horse, and the way that the colt attacked being on the track. Every time that Slew would race, he would pour all of himself into it, leading to his being spent. He ran so hard during the races that Turner knew if he worked his charge hard in the mornings as well that he would come up empty in the afternoon. Derby week would see him post another slow workout on Sunday with Turner planning to give him a 5-furlong sharpener the Thursday before the race. Thursday’s track would wind up muddy due to the rains, so instead Slew would work 3-furlongs in :34 2/5 Friday morning.

The 103rd Derby crowd of 124,038 gathered at the Louisville track to see the undefeated colt take on a field of 14 other competitors. Ridden by Frenchman Jean Cruget who had piloted the colt in all of his previous outings, the pair broke badly, swerving at the start, As a consequence they would be trapped behind a wall of horses. Unable to run freely like he was used to, Slew started to bull past the field at a furious pace, nearly catching up to the leader For The Moment as they rounded the first turn. Seattle Slew edged ahead briefly before his rival surged back into the lead. The horse that had finished second to Seattle Slew in the Champagne Stakes the year before kept that lead along the backstretch. Then, as the horses came out of the final turn, Seattle Slew powered to the front. Cruget would gear down the colt with an eighth to go, cruising under the wire in front of Run Dusty Run. Slew rolled to a 1 3/4-length victory, covering the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02 1/5.

“I see Seattle Slew right next to me and I said, ‘Wow, this horse came in quick,’” Angel Cordero Jr., For The Moment’s jockey, remembered on Sports Century. “And I looked and there he was like this, looking at me. I never, never noticed a horse that can look at me, but he was looking at me. Seattle Slew just kept looking at me, passed me and took every other challenge from behind. And I said to myself, ‘That horse is a champion.’”

In the Preakness, Slew would face some new competition in the highly-regarded stakes winner, Cormorant, the English 2YO Champion J.O.Tobin, and the Withers winner, Iron Constitution. A record crowd of 77,346 congregated to see the undefeated colt take on the salty field. From the start, Seattle Slew and Cormorant battled side-by-side through swift early fractions. The two would open up 10 lengths on the field, as Seattle Slew began to draw off on the far turn. Having a three length lead with an eighth to go, Cruget would begin to ease up on his mount, allowing Iron Constitution to cut the lead in half as they crossed the finish line. Vanquishing the competition by 1 ½ lengths, the pair would finish in 1:54 2/5, only 2/5 off of Canonero II’s record at the time.

As the usual doubters argued with the backers of the winner of the first two legs of the Triple Crown about whether he could pass the distance test of the mile and a half “Test of Champions”, the seasoned colt became determined and focused in his training, growing stronger by the day. Having to travel over a muddy track for the Belmont, Slew would have no trouble commanding the course, once more taking over the lead from the start. Pressured by his opposition, the confident colt would stay relaxed throughout the race, obtaining a safe lead in the top of the stretch. With a quarter mile remaining, Seattle Slew would gallop away from the field scoring the Triple Crown victory by 4 lengths in 2:29 3/5.

Becoming the first to win the Triple Crown while undefeated, the connections would license Seattle Slew’s image to be able to control the use of the super-star’s image. Xerox would use Seattle Slew for their advertisements for a new horse x-ray machine, however in doing so; they would have to tranquilize him for the photo shoots. In addition to the photo shoots, the bay was again tranquilized for his flight to California, as he was being shipped to Hollywood Park. The track had offered upwards of $300,000 in purse money if Seattle Slew would run in the Swaps. He would participate, although the toll of the Triple Crown run, possibly combined with the aftereffects of all the tranquilizers, led to his first defeat as he finished fourth, his only off-the-board outing. He wouldn’t race for the remainder of the year, still his impressive sophomore undertaking led to his being voted 3YO Champion and Horse of the Year.

Seattle Slew would then have to fight off troublesome issues, the first being to battle a cough and fever. Once he overcame the sickness he faced a life-threatening collapsed jugular vein that threatened to end his racing career. In the process, Turner was fired and replaced by Doug Peterson due to conflicting opinions on the handling of the Champion. Managing to defy the odds and make it back to the track, Seattle Slew impressively won an allowance in April, before having an ankle fill. Out of action until August, Slew would again be entered into an allowance race, posting a 6 length victory.

In contesting the Patterson Handicap, which was to be a prep for taking on Affirmed (the 1978 Triple Crown winner), Seattle Slew would lose by a neck. After the race, Cruget would voice that he felt the colt wasn’t trained properly, leading to his being replaced by Angel Cordero. The two Triple Crown champions would meet in the Marlboro Cup, the first time two Triple Crown winners would face each other. Seattle Slew would find the winner’s circle in taking the race by 3 lengths in a time of 1:45.80, which was only .40 of a second off of Secretariat’s world record time for the mile and an eighth. Two weeks after winning the Marlboro Cup, Slew would win the Woodward by 4 lengths over the Older Champion, Exceller, while lowering the track record from 2:01 4/5 for a mile and a quarter to 2:00. Seattle Slew and Affirmed would face each other once again, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a mile and a half race in October. Seattle Slew would go out to the front, setting fast fractions, however as they neared the end of the race, Exceller would go to his inside with the two campaigners battling fiercely down the stretch, in what some would say was Seattle Slew’s best race, despite losing by a nose. After a victory in the Stuyvesant, “Baby Huey” would retire, having won 14 of 17 races and 1978’s Champion Older Horse award.

Syndicated for $12 million dollars, a record at the time, his first 7 years at stud were spent at Spendthrift. In 1985 he was moved to Three Chimneys Farm.  An exceptional sire, Seattle Slew became a part of the only 3 generation Belmont winning lineage. He would sire the great A.P. Indy, which would then sire the amazing filly Rags To Riches, who became only the third filly to win the race, following 1867 winner Ruthless, and 1905 winner Tanya. In his first crop he sired the 2YO Filly Champion, Landaluce, whose brilliance was being compared to the great Ruffian prior to her passing from a virus before she turned three. Twenty-five years to the day that he won the Kentucky Derby, Seattle Slew would pass away. He is buried whole at Hill N Dale with his favorite blanket and a bag of peppermints. The beloved stallion was inducted into the Hall Of Fame in 1981.

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Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum