Seattle Slew, horse racing’s lone remaining living Triple Crown winner, passed away on May 7, 2002 at the age of 28. Already ranked among the all time greats by virtue of this accomplishment alone, Slew is even more notable as the only Triple Crown winner to go undefeated as a three year hold. He came from humble beginnings, bought at public auction–the only Triple Crown winner to be acquired in this manner. After retiring to stud in’78 he remained a very profitable horse based on a stud fee of $300,000. His offspring earned over $76 million dollars at the race track and include over 100 stakes race winners including’84 Kentucky Derby champion Swale.
The Seattle Slew story began very modestly at a public auction in Lexington, Kentucky. The Keeneland Summer Yearling sale wasn’t supposed to be the marketplace of champions, and the idea that this particular horse would ever amount to anything other than a farmhand was downright laughable. He was somewhat clumsy looking due to a front right forefoot splay and had a shuffling gait at trot. Slew wasn’t a beautifully majestic creature like his Triple Crown winning predecessor, Secretariat. Slew was borderline ugly. So ungainly a creature was he that he was given the less than inspiring nickname “Baby Huey” by the Keeneland staff. He was purchased by two couples (Karen and Mickey Taylor and Jim and Sally Hill) for $17,500. What wasn’t apparent at the yearling sale was the intangibles that make up a championship thoroughbred–poise under pressure, love of competition, toughness, heart and desire. His owners had unwittingly stumbled onto an equine Muhammad Ali, and his competitive fire quickly became apparent to his trainers and jockeys. His first race came at Belmont Park in’76, and he entered–and won–three races as a two year old giving a glimpse as to what like ahead.
Slew became the Kentucky Derby favorite by winning his three prep races as a three year old, including prestigious Wood Memorial. In the Derby, Slew got off to a terrible start as he stumbled from the gate much like War Emblem did in the 2002 Belmont. Unlike 2002’s Triple Crown contender, however, Slew was able to recover from that miscue and basically force his way through a pack of other horses to position himself at the front of the field at the quarter mile pole. Slew would win the Derby by a length and 3 quarters. He took another tough victory at the Preakness before clinching the Triple Crown with a 4 length victory in the Belmont Stakes.
Slew ran in a few races as a 4 year old but in the pre-Breeders’ Cup days there wasn’t as many opportunities for an older horse. He retired to stud in’78. We’ve already discussed his prowess in the breeding shed, siring a number of first rate horses such as the aforementioned Swale, and the’92 Belmont champ AP Indy. Slew stood at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky from’85 until early 2002 when he was moved to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm in Lexington, KY following a spinal operation.
In some ways, Slew had much in common with the heavyweight championship reign of Larry Holmes. He came so quickly on the heels of such incredible excellence–Slew was forever in the shadow of’73 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, Holmes on the heels of Muhammad Ali–that he never gained the appreciation he deserved during his prime. In hindsight, however, it has finally been noted what an exceptional horse he really was. Jockey Angel Cordero, who rode Slew during the twilight of his career noted “If I had a chance to take any horse in the world, if someone said your life is depending on riding one horse to win, I would take (Slew). I rode 44,000 horses, but he was special, he was different. He was muscled, like a wrestler. He ran different than any other horse. It was like he came from another planet.”
Following his death in 2002, Slew was laid to rest at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm in Kentucky under a statue memorializing his legacy.
Ross Everett is a freelance sports writer and respected authority on sports betting odds comparison. He writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sportsbooks and sportsbook directory sites. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with three Jack Russell Terriers and a kangaroo. He is currently working on an autobiography of former interior secretary James Watt.