Seattle Slew great in all departments

May 14, 2002 6:28 AM
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Great race horses do not necessarily prove to be great stallions. Citation and Secretariat were champions on the track, but each was a dud at stud. Cigar was a king on the track but fired blanks in the breeding shed. He was infertile.

But one thoroughbred that came through on both fronts was Seattle Slew, the only undefeated horse to win the Triple Crown, in 1977.

One of racing’s all-time bargains as a $17,500 yearling purchase, Seattle Slew died last Tuesday near Lexington, Ky., exactly 25 years to the day of his Kentucky Derby triumph. He was 28 and still productive at stud, despite falling victim to the rigors of old age in recent years. His stud fee was $100,000 at the time of his death, and $300,000 at its apex.

Here was a horse for the ages, the likes of which racing may never see again. As a 2-year-old, he broke his maiden in his first attempt and two races later won the Champagne Stakes. At 3, he won the Derby, the Flamingo, the Wood Memorial, the Preakness and the Belmont.

At 4, he won the Marlboro Cup, the Woodward, and the Stuyvesant. Slew won the Derby by 13/4 lengths as the 1-2 favorite in a 15-horse field. Overall, the dark bay son of Bold Reasoning won 14 of 17 starts and earned $1,208,726.

Doug Peterson was a naive kid of 26 when he took over the training of Seattle Slew from Billy Turner, who conditioned him for owners Karen and Mickey Taylor through the Triple Crown.

Now 50, Peterson is a mainstay on the Southern California circuit where he operates a successful if nondescript stable. But his memories of the great ”˜Slew’ are ever vivid.

"I got Seattle Slew late in his 3-year-old year, after he got beat by J.O. Tobin at Hollywood Park (in the Swaps Stakes)," Peterson recalled. "Billy Turner brought him out here, but he didn’t want to run the horse. As the horse was getting off the van and they slid up the screen door that was on the top of his stall, it fell down and hit him on the head.

"The day of the race he had a temperature. That’s why he couldn’t make the lead," Turner continued. "There was no horse ever going to be in front of this horse, but despite the temperature, they ran him anyway, because of all the hype and all the money and all the fans who wanted to see him. That’s what started the disagreement between the Taylors and Turner."

Peterson got his chance to train Seattle Slew through a stroke of good fortune.

"I was in Hot Springs, Arkansas, sitting on a bucket," Peterson said. "I was cold and down and out, and this girl, an assistant for another trainer, came by and told me, ”˜If you’re going to make it big, you’ve got to go to New York.’ I packed up with two bums and went to New York.

"I got stables at Belmont Park on the backside of Billy Turner, but that was just a coincidence," he continued. "Turns out, I was in the right place at the right time, because Dr. (Jim) Hill was the veterinarian for Billy, and he came to my barn and I asked him to work on a couple of my horses.

"Dr. Hill recognized my horsemanship and he and Mickey Taylor were buying 15 yearlings. They were going to need two trainers and this is how the whole thing started. They said Billy would have a string and I would have a string. Well, before the next year, they fired Billy. They gave me a job, told me to go to Hialeah and wait for the horses. I went there and waited and sure enough, here came 32 horses, and I was stabled right next to (the late) Woody Stephens. Seattle Slew got sick from a viral infection when Dr. Hill gave him a shot of Bute and he got a reaction from a dirty needle. It was unfortunate, but he almost died on us.

"I saved his life, and Mickey and Karen Taylor will tell you that today. Actually, I saved him twice. Seattle Slew got very nasty and mean when he got sick, because he sensed he was going to die. He had gone to colitis X, and the horse next to him had already contacted colitis X and died. I stayed in Seattle Slew’s stall. He trusted me.

"I held hot towels on his neck all night long and did anything to help him and he would let me. He wouldn’t let a lot of people near him. He bit my assistant trainer and tore a hole in his chest and threw him right out of the stall. Mean and nasty this horse was when sick."

"I got Seattle Slew back to life but races wouldn’t fill for him. On Mother’s Day, I finally got him in an allowance race at Aqueduct. He won by eight in the mud. Everybody was going to scratch. They were trying to kill the race. I didn’t run him again until Father’s Day. Same thing. We couldn’t fill a race.

"On Fathers’ Day, it came up slop again, and he won by eight again. I had to go into the Paterson Handicap (at Meadowlands) off two mud races at seven furlongs. I couldn’t work him much in between and Dr. Patches beat him a neck in the Paterson, getting 14 pounds (128 to 114).

ANGEL CORDERO, JR.

"Before the race, (Jean) Cruguet (Slew’s regular rider) came to the paddock crying. He said, ”˜I don’t want to ride this horse. Angel Cordero’s been following me all night long. He’s been harassing me.

"Cordero had psyched him out before the race, plus, there was heavy sand that night and they didn’t water the track. Mickey and Karen were going crazy because they knew the speed horses were going to get tired and Seattle Slew was going to get tired going a mile and an eighth against Dr. Patches.

"But Cordero did psyche out Cruguet. I told the Taylors I wanted to change riders right then. They said, ”˜Doug, you can’t fire this guy. He just won the Triple Crown on the horse.’ I said, ”˜Believe me, it’s not going to work. I can tell. We’re doomed.’ But they wouldn’t let me. After he got beat, they said, ”˜Doug, you’re going to be the one to fire Cruguet.’

"We voted on who would ride the horse. Jacinto Vasquez was riding all my horses at the time and he was winning everything. At one point, we won eight out of nine starts. I wanted Jacinto, but the Taylors also threw in Cordero’s name and Shoemaker’s name. The two of them decided against me. They wanted Cordero.

"They told me to go to the jocks’ room at Belmont Park and fire Cruguet and hire Cordero, so I did. And Cruguet hates me to this day. But Angel loves me."

BAILEY CHOSEN ”” Jockey Jerry Bailey (L) is now on Medaglia D’Oro.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Bobby Frankel, asked after Laffit Pincay Jr. rode Medaglia d’Oro to victory in the San Felipe if the Hall of Fame rider would be replaced with a "big name" jockey in the Wood Memorial, said, "I have a big name rider." But after a fourth aboard Medaglia d’Oro in the Kentucky Derby, Frankel jettisoned Pincay for Jerry Bailey in Saturday’s Preakness. And how did Laffit learn of the change? "Frankel didn’t tell me," Pincay said. "He told my agent."