Funny side to Slew’s Triple Crown feat

If Funny Cide had won the Belmont Stakes, he would have made racing history.

He would have become the first gelding to win the Triple Crown, the first New York-bred to win the Triple Crown, and only the 12th horse to sweep the elusive 3-year-old classics comprised of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont.

The chestnut son of Distorted Honor would have become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, and would have joined Sir Barton 1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973) and Seattle Slew (1977) among racing’s icons, in addition to the aforementioned Affirmed.

The elite eleven all are richly deserved members of the Hall of Fame, and behind each is at least one story that borders on fiction, but perhaps none as enlightening as the one Tommy Roberts tells of Seattle Slew, who died early last year at 29.

Seattle Slew was a horse for the ages. The $17,500 yearling purchase not only was a great racehorse, but a world-class stallion for more than two decades. His is a fairytale story whose legend will only grow with time.

Adding to the fable of Seattle Slew is the following yarn spun by the loquacious Roberts, a long-time associate and friend whose journey in racing includes executive tours at Hialeah and the defunct Garden State Park.

As an unheralded insider, Roberts was instrumental in Slew becoming the only undefeated Triple Crown winner, starting with his authoritative 13/4-length victory in the Derby. But let Tommy tell it:

"My association with the Slew Crew began in February of 1977. I was general manager and vice president at Hialeah. Slew needed a prep race before the Flamingo, which was a vital step on his road to Kentucky.

"After several failed attempts at filling a seven-furlong prep race for Slew, I gathered a bunch of trainers on the apron one workout morning. I told them in no uncertain terms that racing needed its superstars and we had a potential superstar that needed a prep. Johnny Tammaro, John Nerud and about six others listened to my plea and filled the race. Billy Turner (Slew's trainer) told publicist Frank Tours that if I hadn't gotten that race to go, Slew would never have won the Derby and eventually the Triple Crown.

"Move forward to Saratoga 1977. I met with Slew's owners, Karen and Mickey Taylor, Turner and jockey Jean Cruguet. By now, a friendship had developed. I got them to agree to run Slew four times during the 1978 Hialeah meeting, provided I could get (his races on) national television. I went to New York and worked a deal with Jim Spence and John Martin at ABC-TV. I then created a race for 'Derby winners preferred' called the Hialeah Invitational Challenge Cup. Al Michaels, Eddie Arcaro and I did the first telecast. The sad thing is, Slew got sick and nearly died the night before we opened in 1978. He never made any of the four races.

"It was during that meet that Mickey Taylor, knowing I was going to resign my post at the end of the meet in March, asked me to manage Slew's 4-year-old champaign, if he made it back to the races. I agreed and on May 20, 1978, Slew returned at Aqueduct. I did the telecast with Jim Simpson on NBC-TV for $50,000.

"Mike replied, 'We already have the rights to Saturday's races at Aqueduct and we're doing a telecast of the stake and several other races. Why should we pay the Slew Crew $50,000?' I said, 'Because if you don't, he'll make his return to racing on Tuesday.' He agreed. I immediately made arrangements to pay the connections of Gallant Bob, the 1977 Sprint champion, to come up from Philadelphia Park. They got $5,000 to race against Slew. The other $45,000 was given to NYRA for the benefit of backstretch employees in the name of Slew and his owners. I don't know what the NYRA did with the $45,000, but the Slew Crew never got a cent.

"Fast forward to last year's Derby. I had not been to the derby in 10 years. I was invited as a guest and went, ran into Karen Talor and Jean Cruguet, who were not at the races together. They came up to my table and we took a photo to celebrate Slew's Derby victory 25 years earlier. The irony is that I dreamed up a promotion at Hialeah in 1977 and called it 'Tuesday is Slew's Day." Fans took pictures of the horse, the owners, the rider, the exercise rider, the groom, etc. How prophetic. Tuesday was Slew's Day. He died on a Tuesday, exactly 25 years to the day he won the Kentucky Derby.

"I have to say that his loss to Exceller in the Jockey Club Gold Cup was the greatest race I ever saw and Slew's finest hour. His first quarter-mile in the Derby is the stuff of champions. I have not seen any horse equal that effort since. I doubt I ever will. Seattle Slew was a horse of many a year."

Slew's Record

Year     Starts     1st     Earnings

1976, 3, 3, $94,350

1977, 7, 6, $641,370

1978, 7, 5, $473,006

Career, 17, 14, $1,208,726

1977 Triple Crown Season

1st — Kentucky Derby

1st — Preakness Stakes

1st — Belmont Stakes

1st — Wood Memorial

1st — Flamingo Stakes

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