Seattle Slew may have become a Triple Crown champion in 1977, but his birth brought no more of a response from the isolated world of Kentucky-based thoroughbred racing than did a sudden flight taken by pigeons off a roof at Three Chimneys Farm.
The dark brown colt happened to be the first foal of his dam, My Charmer. And My Charmer was a first-foal herself.
At the time of Seattle Slew’s foaling, his sire — Bold Reasoning — was also so new to the business of breeding that he had no documented record.
Because he was a first-foal, Seattle Slew drew the attention of Mickey and Karen Taylor at a Fasig-Tipton yearling sale in 1975. Both the Taylors were drawn toward first-borns. It was easy enough to research the fact that both My Charmer and her son were first-foals.
At that Fasig-Tipton auction, lumberman Mickey Taylor and his wife were accompanied by veterinarian Jim Hill and his wife, Sally. Those four had lumped their money and were looking at spending no more than $13,000 for this basically unknown colt. When the bidding moved past the foursome’s agreed upon limit, there was some restless stirring in the seats.
Mickey Taylor was ready to look elsewhere when the bid reached $17,500, but his wife sent a soft elbow his way . . . and he bid one more time. There was no response from anywhere in the room. The unnamed colt belonged to the Taylors and Hills.
The lumber-company Taylors were from White Swan, Washington. They would draw the name for their one-colt operation from the northwest city of Seattle and waters through which logs are transported to market — only Karen Taylor changed the spelling of the word “slough” to “Slew”. Thus, the paperwork for the yearling son of Bold Reasoning was completed.
It wasn’t long after the purchase that the Taylors vanned their dark brown colt with the small patch of white hair on his left rear hoof over to Virginia’s nearby Middleburg Training Center where trainer Billy Turner’s wife, Paula, would break him.
Once Paula Turner had broken him to the saddle and did what she could to ease his pathway to actual races, Seattle Slew was moved to Monkton, Maryland and Andor Farm.
Later, the reports from Andor Farm were all positive as even the grooms and other workers spoke of Seattle Slew’s intelligence and willingness to learn.
When the time came for a first test of the actual-racing waters, Seattle Slew would be ridden by jockey Jean Cruguet and Cruguet would be sporting the black shirt with a yellow yolk, yellow hoops on both sleeves, and yellow cap.
Billy Turner had been chosen to be the youngster’s trainer. It was Turner who employed jockey Cruguet. Turner was a praiseworthy soul when he told of how Seattle Slew had taken to his training and had readied himself for his two-year-old debut.
The training had been nearly flawless. And word had filtered out from those who had worked alongside trainer Turner that Seattle Slew had run fast fractions in his workouts and had been a model student.
Even in his first test, he was bet down to 2.60-1. The Taylors had the betting favorite in his first race, a six-furlong maiden event at Belmont Park on September 20, 1976.
The smallish on-track crowd had to notice a trait of Seattle Slew’s that would become his trademark of sorts. During the post parade he minced along on his “toes” in tight little steps. When he won the race by five lengths, a few onlookers talked quietly among themselves about that baby’s “war dance”.
His subsequent races were also previewed by more post parade “war dances”. it got to be that if Seatlle Seattle hadn’t done his little routine, fans and race-track regulars and the media would have believed something was wrong with the colt.
With his beginning race coming only in late September, there would be only two more tries in his two-year-old season. A win in an allowance race and then 11 days later coming back in the Champagne Stakes would be the only three races he had in 1976.
Seattle Slew charged off into the winter of 1976-77 with the bells and sirens still echoing from his 9 3/4-lengths win the much-noticed Champagne Stakes.
Wins in a maiden event, an allowance race, and the Champagne Stakes had been enough to sway the Eclipse Award voters and they selected Seattle Slew as the Champion Two-Year-Old of 1976.
The winter months were more a pause than a time of rest for the three-time starter. Would he be the early-spring favorite for the Kentucky Derby? There was a swirl of anticpation. And a swirl of printed articles about the endearing personality and other sterling qualities found in Seattle Slew.
It was said he had “character”. He showed more race-time electricity than most, and a little extra pizzazz when he displayed his “dance” steps when moving to the post.
He showed considerable length of body, had a wide but athletic girth, and was said to have an exceptionally straight hind leg.
Other owners that had owned what they believed were well-bred thoroughbreds bought for as much as $300,000 at auction whispered that Seattle Slew was plain and ordinary looking. Years later after he had won the Triple Crown, others came forward with their best band-wagon stride and mentioned his noble head and competitive eye.
He had a real vitality about him. And his competitive juices seemed to come from a bottomless well-spring of energy.
Beginning his three-year-old schedule with an allowance-race win and the another victory in the Flamingo Stakes, “Slew” went to New York and took the Wood Memorial by over three lengths.
He came to the Kentucky Derby as the unbeaten favorite. And his odds were just 1-2 on Derby Day. While in the starting gate, his head was held in place by an assistant starter. When the bell rang and the gates swung open, the assistant starter held Seatlle Slew’s head just a little too long. The unbeaten favorite swerved from the gate and was steadied by Cruguet. He took his own flying path to the front with Cruguet just along for the ride. The entire pace for the last six furlongs was set by Seattle Slew. Once on the hard-won lead, he settled into an energy-saving rhythm that proved to be enough to win that day.
Wins came quickly in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes . . . and there was a Triple Crown winner only four years after Secretariat had owned the racing world.
The next year, adversity visited in large chunks. A collapsed jugular vein threatened his life, a filled ankle, and an injury to a suspensory ligament nearly caused Taylor and the others to have him retire. However, adversity was finally shed and there was a return to the track.
The Taylors and the Mills had a parting of the ways and Doug Peterson became his trainer and Angel Cordero, Jr. became his jockey. In 1978, there were fondly remembered stretch duels witn Affirmed and Exceller and Seattle Slew won five of his seven races and was second in those other two.
Seattle Slew won The Stuyvesant Handicap in November . . . and was retired and syndicated for $44 million.
His illustrious career at stud peaked in 1984 when he was America’s leading sire. He fathered Swale, Landaluce, Slew o’ Gold, A. P. Indy, Surfside, and Rags to Riches. He is the only thoroughbred in history to win the Belmont Stakes, then sire a Belmont Stakes champion (A. P. Indy), who then also sires a Belmont champion (the filly Rags to Riches).
His plaque was hung in the Hall of Fame in Saratoga in 1981. Two neck operations were survived when he was past 20 years old.
Upon retirement from racing, he entertained children with a special civility and gentleness. His demeanor was always calm and his spirit rounded to that of a big teddy bear. Little seemed to trouble him because he wasn’t bothered by either the cold or snow. He would stand for photographs for long periods of time. Seattle Slew had shown a particular intelligence that he could summon in times of trouble both on and off the track. He was competitive and compassionate.
And other Affirmed has won the coveted Triple Crown in the time since he did it in 1977.