Havin' parents who were unproven and for the most part, unknown, Seattle Slew (1974-2002) ended up bein' auctioned for the bargain basement price of $17,500. His new owners Karen and Mickey Taylor named him for the city of Seattle and the "sloughs" loggers used to transport logs. Decidin' the correct spellin' would be too hard to remember, it was changed to "slew." At least that's one story. There are others.
Anyway, he was a big, nearly black colt who trainers Billy Turner and wife Paula nicknamed Baby Huey 'cause he was downright clumsy, rarely gettin' anythin' right. His right foreleg curved outward slightly so he swayed to the outside when he galloped. That may have contributed to what became to be known as his "War Dance," a habit of tiptoein' onto the track before races.
Slew didn't tiptoe around anyone when it came to winnin', though, turnin' heads at Saratoga even as a two-year-old. He won all three of his races easily, his last the Champagne Stakes where he romped by nine lengths in record time.
He didn't begin his three-year-old career until March when he set a new Hialeah track record. He then recorded easy wins in both the Flamingo and Wood Memorial and they started callin' Seattle Slew the "People's Horse." (Personally I find that whole thing kinda' silly—I mean they never call the canine who wins big at Westminster the "People's Dog" and we're far more accessible to "the people" than a 1,000 pound horse.) But the huge mass of "the people" at Churchill Downs on race day made Slew nervous and he went to the post so sweated up everyone expected him to tire early. Confidence did not improve when Seattle Slew hit his face on the starting gate at the break, nearly dumpin' his jockey, Jean Cruguet, on his butt.
In spite of that, Slew recovered to take the lead within the first quarter, and won impressively when the early leader faded. Seattle Slew remained undefeated. Asked about his colt's performance, trainer Billy Turner responded: "He broke slowly. He was shut off immediately. He had to overcome adversity. And then he went on to do what he was supposed to do. That's the sign of a racehorse." (As if the four legs, mane, tail and little man sittin' on top weren't enough of a clue.)
Two weeks later Seattle Slew took the Preakness with the same impressive style, running the fastest opening mile in the race's history. The mile and a half Belmont Stakes, his greatest challenge to date, proved to be no contest. By sweeping the 1977 Triple Crown, Slew became the first undefeated Triple Crown winner.
Afterward AHM says his owners went a little media crazy, sellin' tee-shirts, cocktail glasses, and Slew Rings, and lettin' the champ pose for all sorts of advertisements. Racetracks were offerin' $100,000 purses for him to run, but trainer Billy Turner said the horse deserved a break. Mickey Taylor and the rest of the Slew Crew disagreed, figurin' their baby was invincible—always a bad assumption.
Needless to say, Seattle Slew didn't stay unbeaten for long. Runnin' in the Swaps Stakes only two weeks after the Belmont, J.O. Tobin outran the tired Slew. There's a reason the "Slew Crew" weren't trainers. But when trainer Billy Turner told the press the truth, that the colt should never have been entered in the race, Mickey Taylor fired him.
Seattle Slew's ability to overcome adversity set him apart of the run-of-the-mill thoroughbreds. In January 1978, he fought off a life-threatening collapsed left jugular vein to return to racin' in May. Veterinarians had originally said he would never race again, but Slew proved 'em wrong. During his four-year-old campaign, Slew also overcame a suspensory ligament injury, a filled ankle, and several other hurdles that would have stopped even the greatest racers. Slew emerged to run some of his greatest performances of all-time. The highlight of the season was Seattle Slew's hook-up with the 1978 Triple Crown winner in the Marlboro Cup. It was the first time two Triple Crown winners met nose to nose on a racetrack and Slew beat the younger champion by three lengths.
When he retired, Seattle Slew went about producin' champions the same way he went about winnin' races—very successfully. One of his best was 1984's Derby/Belmont winner Swale who tragically died of a heart attack just 18 days after winnin' the Belmont. And Slew's grandson is the great Cigar, the only horse since Citation to win 16 races in a row.
Seattle Slew died May 7, 2002, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his Kentucky Derby victory.
posted by Harrison at 3:30 PM