Seattle Slew is still the only undefeated Triple Crown champion. His name is known even to many who don’t follow horse racing and one of the most beloved horses in racing. He didn’t start out with a silver spoon however, but made his own way despite stumbling blocks.
On February 15, 1974 a daughter of the good stallion Poker foaled a dark brown colt. White Horse Acres Farm near Lexington Kentucky took care of the son of Bold Reasoning in his early life. My Charmer was bred by Ben Castleman, the first foal of his Fair Charmer to live. My Charmer was her sire’s first stakes winner, with a win in the Fair Grounds Oaks in 1972. My Charmer was inbred to War Admiral and produced 11 named foals. While three of those were stakes winners and two others stakes placed it is her 1974 foal by Bold Reasoning that stamped her forever in history books. Her other offspring, a Classic winner in Great Britain named Lomond and, when bred to Nijinsky II produced Seattle Dancer, who in 1985 became the most expensive yearling ever sold at public auction when he sold for $13.1 million at Keeneland’s July yearling sale. But before all that was a little bay Bold Reasoning colt.
Bold Reasoning himself was a young unproven stallion and being from young stock his son didn’t attract a great deal of attention. A grandson of the great Bold Ruler he won his first seven races before suffering a leg injury. Overcoming the injury he returned to the track and set a track record for six furlongs at Belmont Park before running second in the Metropolitan Handicap. He retired with eight wins and two seconds from 12 races – and raced with several throat and leg issues with his career. Retired to Claiborne farm his first crop were yearlings when in a breeding shed accident he cracked his pelvis, later leading to severe colic which lead to his being euthanized on April 24, 1975. With just three crops sired it could have been Bold Reasoning would have been forgotten – except for a colt that was a yearling when he died.
At the Fasig-Tipton Company sale in July 1975 the colt by Bold Reasoning out of My Charmer by Poker sold for $17.500 to Karen and Micky Taylor and sent to Andor farm in Monkton Maryland. None of their lives would ever be the same.
Slew entered training and in September 1976 started a race win streak that landed him votes for North America’s best two year old. He made famous the SureWin which changed the position of the bit in his mouth. He won easily with impressive amounts of daylight between him and his rivals.
He then won the Flamingo Stakes and Wood Memorial in preparing for the Triple Crown. He entered the post parade for the Kentucky Derby undefeated and with two tough opponents looking to end his undefeated streak. Run Dusty Run and For The Moment were tough horses with 24 wins from 26 races between them – Slew was not going to be handed a win. In a bad timing Slew walked past the band just as it exploded with the national anthem – resulting in a jump forward and unsettling the fit colt. The humidity and the enclosed area of the paddock, with some people reaching through to touch him or grab a momento from his tail set Slew on edge, and he expresses his thoughts by lashing out in a kick that left no doubt of his displeasure. Coming out of the gate he bumped ahrd with Get The Axe came. For The Moment went to the lead and set the pace with Flag Officer, Bob’s Dusty and Affiliate blocking ground but Slew was not done. Despite everything that had gone wrong when they came for home Slew found another gear, dug in and would not be beaten. With several legitimate excuses Slew responded without a need for excuses – he was just that good.
The Preakness showed a revival of challengers and some new horses coming in to challenge the still undefeated colt. Despite doing their best there was no holding the colt back – Slew’s time of 1:54.2 was the second fastest Preakness in the 102 years it’d been run. Poised on the brink – undefeated going in to the Belmont would either explode Slew to historical immortality or plunge him into a defeated almost great horse. Some challenges sought to derail the gallant colt. Slew’s regular exercise rider, Mike Kennedy was also a pari-mutuel clerk – when the clerks working for the NY Racing Associations went on strike, Kennedy was not allowed on a NYRA track, which Belmont is. A replacement rider was found but Slew protested, running off with him and doing pretty much what he wanted until outriders came to the rescue. The strike was settled and nine days before the Belmont he had his first serious work of a mile, showing he was ready for the challenge. Rain and more rain left the Belmont track one of the heaviest tracks in Belmont Stakes history. The horses arrived in the paddock – except Slew. A second call was made, and television broadcasts scrambled to cover as it went over their allotted time. The Turners were fined and when Slew finally arrived he was tacked and rushed into the post parade. The muddy surface was a worry to the people around Slew. But Slew, unconcerned with little things did his normal pre-race “war dance” warm up. It was said five to six inches of mud lay around the first turn. Run Dusty Run would have been much more memorable if not for his defeat in that Belmont Stakes. Slew didn’t come close to Secretariat’s record set a few years earlier – but he didn’t have to. All he had to do is win, and he did. Following a gruelling spring campaign in the spring of 1977 Slew travelled to Hollywood Park for the Swaps Stakes where he finished fourth, the worst in his career. Today such a colt would be retired – his value at stud worth more than more races. The Breeders Cup was not started but Slew was voted Horse of the Year and champion three year old. Following the Triple Crown the Taylors donated funds to support research at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University in Pullman Washignton. Surgical techniques for compression of the spinal cord was developed because of this research.
In 1978 Slew overcame a life-threatening viral infection and collapsed jugular vein early in the year and veterinarians say he’d never race again and saving him for stud duty was a focus. He also overcame a suspensory ligament injury and several other smaller injuries that would be reason for retirement now. But Slew loved to race. Slew returned to the track, with wins at Aqueduct and Saratoga before running second by a neck at the Meadowlands. Back at Belmont for the Marlboro Cup the first of only meetings between the Triple Crown champions was run – Seattle Slew and Affirmed with Slew triumphing by three lengths. He then set a track record of 2:00 in the Woodward Stakes. In the Jockey Club Gold Cup at a mile and a half he was nosed out of a win then on Veterans Day back at Aqueduct won the Stuyvesant Handicap. His official record of 17 starts, 14 wins, 2 seconds, 1 unplaced and earnings of $1,208,728 was a campaign that sparkled – this was before the million dollar lure of the Breeders Cup races.
In 1981 he was elected into the horse racing hall of fame. In 1982 his first foals began racing and earned him yet another title – the leading freshman sire. By 1984 he was the leading sire and by 1995 he was the leading broodmare sire for two consecutive years. He’s one of a small group of Kentucky Derby winners to sire a Kentucky Derby winner – champion 3 year old and Derby winner Swale in 1984. His list of champion offspring reads like a racing history book – 1992 Horse of the Year and Breeders Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy – now a perennial leading sire and one of the most sought after stallions in the world. Champion 2 year old in 1986 Capote, English champion Digression, champion two year old filly from his early sired crops Landaluce, champion at three and four Slew O’Gold, champion filly in 2000 Surfside, champion 2 year old in 2002 Vindication. His sons include some of the most noted sires in the world – as mentioned A.P. Indy but also Bold Truth, Capote, Chief Seattle, Doneraile Court, Event of the Year, General Meeting, Gold Legend, Leestown, Slew City Slew and Vindication but a few. Not to be outdone – his daughter produced more including the great Cigar, Escena, Golden Attraction, Japan champion Hishi Akebono, Lemon Drop Kid, Purerto Rico champion Mulca, Argentina champion Slew of Reality. A.P. Indy, out of a daughter of Secretariat, combines to of the most dominant Triple Crown champions in history.
The one thing that has struck me about Slew bred horses is their temperment – they for the most part LIKE people. They’d come from the field and want to be handled. While it was grandsons and granddaughters I handled they all had a laid back personality that made them a joy to work with.
On April 2, 2000 Slew underwent surgery to fuse the joint between two vertebrae in his neck. A steel mesh basket was inserted around the vertebrae to stabalize the joint. Slew returned to stud duty. In October of 2001 Slow Down became the 100th stakes winner for Slew when she won the Hillsborough Handicap at Bay Meadows. In March of 2002 Slew returned to surgery to again fuse vertebrae in his neck and was moved to Hill ‘n’ Dale farm near Lexington. On May 7, 2002 – the 25th anniversary of his Kentucky Derby win – racing’s greatest champion both on and off the track layed down to sleep and didn’t wake up. The racing world mourned the loss of a great horse and a true champion. He was arguably the greatest bargain horse racing has ever known. He was 28.
Through 2001 Slew’s offspring won just over $75million on the track. Slew is still making an impact on racing today. His last foal, Maggie Slew, won a feature allowance at Churchill Downs in May of 2006. It’s a grandson of Slew, by A.P. Indy, who will forever be remembered – or perhaps quickly forgotten – for one race when he won the 2006 Preakness with authority by 5-1/4 legnths. Unfortunately Bernardini was not given enough credit for his race as the attention of the racing world was on the horse that didn’t finish – the much loved Barbaro. Lemon Drop Kid sired Lemons Forever, who surged to win the Kentucky Oaks and in the 2006 Belmont Steppenwolfer (by Aptitude, a grandson of Slew) and Bluegrass Cat (out of an A.P. Indy daughter) finished behind Jazil in the race. In July his daughter Simply Because set a course record at the site of Slew’s worst race – Hollywood Park. Simply Because set her course record of :55.61 for five furlongs on the 29th anniversary of Slew’s defeat in the Swaps Stakes. Another Slew grandson, Lava Man, swept three leading races for older horses in the same year in 2006. Granddaughter Slew Peg set another track record at Turfway Park in September 2006 when she ran a mile in 1:36.37 on the all-weather track.
As it approaches 30 years since Slew’s Triple Crown achievement it is somehow saddening that few in the media pause to recognize how much Slew has given to the sport and to the racing world. Seattle Slew proved himself a champion on and off the track.