Mercifully, bettors forget fast, forget whether the 5-horse that ran down the track with their money was Skedaddle Sue or Sippin Brew or Something New. But the 23,198 who went racing at Hialeah Park last Saturday won't forget Seattle Slew for a very long while. He clobbered the best 3-year-olds that could be mustered in the 48th Flamingo Stakes, strolling past the winning post with a four-length lead after having spurted 10 lengths up on his closest rivals as he rolled into the homestretch.
Seattle Slew has won all five of his starts and, believe it, he may well be a superhorse. To hype its gate, Hialeah ran television and radio spots that asked, "Is Seattle Slew as fast as Secretariat?" Judging from their records at the same stage, Slew is better. Why? Because he is undefeated. Secretariat had been beaten in one of his nine starts as a 2-year-old and would lose again before the Derby.
The Flamingo winner has faced 50 rivals and beaten them by more than 100 lengths. When he was purchased at auction 20 months ago, he cost only $17,500 (in part because he has a slew foot, his right fore). Today the colt's value is close to $7 million (Secretariat was syndicated for $6.08 million in March of his 3-year-old season). Five weeks from now, Slew will go to the post in the Kentucky Derby as an overwhelming favorite, and the only real question about that race seems to be the number of colts willing to contest second.
Last weekend, from New York to California, animals were trying to earn their way to Churchill Downs. At Aqueduct, Cormorant won the $54,000 Bay Shore in lackluster fashion, while Habitony won the $199,000 Santa Anita Derby. However, neither seems to have the wondrous speed of Seattle Slew. Nor are they box-office draws, which Slew seems destined to be.
Thirty minutes before the Flamingo he was led out of his barn on the backstretch and was walked in three lazy circles by his groom. Eight photographers were snapping pictures of him. The colt took 10 steps, stopped and lifted his head. Click. Click. He took 15 steps more and stopped, tail waving. Click. Click. As he walked under the canopy of Australian pines leading to the paddock, Jimmy Jones, the trainer of Calumet Farm during the glory years of Citation, Coaltown, Two Lea, Tim Tarn and Iron Liege, watched Slew closely. "Well, well," Jones said, "that sure is no common critter." No matter if he has a decidedly common name.
That seems to be the case this year with the Derby runners. The list of Churchill Downs nominees starts with Abba Cap and ends with Yack Yack. In between are 295 colts and fillies with dime-store tags, though they are worth many millions of dollars. Among them: A Gypsy Says, A Letter To Harry, Where Is Paul, Brooks Brother, Cuzwuzwrong (who won the California Derby), Clev Er Tell (who won the Louisiana Derby two weeks ago) and Run Dusty Run (who finished second in the Fair Grounds race).
Karen and Mickey Taylor, the young couple who owns Slew, explain his name by saying they come from a town near Seattle (White Swan, which has a population of 600), and the man who selected the colt for them, their vet and advisor Jim Hill, lives near Florida swampland called a slew. Perhaps the Taylors would have thought longer or harder about the matter had they known the colt by Bold Reasoning out of My Charmer would be a headliner.
The Taylors have been in racing just four years and have had superior luck. They went to the right man at the start. Wanting a runner for the West Coast, they approached Allen Jerkens, perhaps the wisest trainer in the East. He showed them a grass horse named Triangular and said they could have him for $50,000. "Take him and run him for a while and if he doesn't do good by you, just give him back at no cost," Jerkens said. The Taylors shipped Triangular west and he won his first start. And his second. Later he won a stake. "We didn't know anything about horse racing then," says Karen Taylor. "And we really didn't get lucky with Triangular. We got lucky with Allen Jerkens. When Triangular won races, I sent pictures of him to Mr. Jerkens. He didn't have to help us, we were nobodies. He just went ahead and did it.
The Taylors have had bad luck, too, but it never is mentioned, never surfaces in their conversation. In 1975 they had a fine 2-year-old named Lexington Laugh, a horse they hoped would carry their colors in the Kentucky Derby. "We named him Lexington Laugh because we had gone to Lexington and had a lot of laughs there," says Karen. "I went crazy over the horse. I got too deeply involved. I'd sleep in front of his stall. He was a good horse, and sound. But he kept running up against Telly's Pop and lost several times. We ran him in the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita that fall. Telly's Pop won the race, but Laugh was in contention as the field neared the top of the stretch. He had trouble changing leads on the turn and broke his leg. Mickey and Dr. Hill both said Laugh had to be put down, but I couldn't let them do it. I knew he could never run again but I wanted him saved. I wanted to keep him in the backyard and be able to look out the window and see him. He was operated on and lived for two months, but he finally had to be destroyed.
"I now know that I did the wrong thing. I was thinking of what was good for me and not for the horse. It was selfish and wrong. I promised myself that I would never again get attached to a horse if we ever came up with another good one. We will only do what is best for Seattle Slew. He will not run to set records. Breaking records means broken legs."