In her scheming to trap Mickey, Karen became a stewardess after she decided he might like her more if she would fly away to fun places, then come home. It didn't work that way. She now says Mickey liked it "only because he thought it would be wonderful for me to learn to treat him like a first-class passenger."
She would also drive a Jeep so Mickey and a friend could sit on the fenders and shoot chipmunks, not because she wanted to but because Mickey wouldn't let her come along if she didn't do something useful. Later, he gave her the job of driving a water truck to keep the dust down on the logging roads, an assignment whose hours were 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. Karen admits that Mickey is still schooling her. "Once or twice a year he gives me a lecture on how I can be a better wife."
Undeniably, Mickey Taylor is a free spirit who does things his way and plays by his rules. He can be wonderfully charming and horribly distant. "I can love him and hate him inside five minutes," says his mother-in-law, Ellen Pearson. Twice he brought her Christmas trees, the second even uglier than the first and thoroughly burned by truck exhaust. Says Mrs. Pearson, "I knew there were beautiful things in the woods but Mickey Taylor certainly couldn't find them."
As a youth, Mickey was something of a hell raiser. There was a night at The Tav in Ellensburg when he was flipping matches and the grass skirt of a go-go girl caught on fire. "It was no big deal," says Mickey, "until the police came." Once he was stopped for speeding, and having no license solved the problem by giving the arresting officer the name of his brother, Quirt, who subsequently paid the fine.
A few years ago Mickey was driving a huge piece of equipment that was spreading rocks on a logging road. The machinery went over the side and Taylor leaped off—right into a tree. That knocked him back onto the machinery. When the dust cleared, there was a pile of iron at the bottom of a canyon, but Mickey didn't make the full trip and suffered only a broken leg. "I was lucky," says Mickey. While on the mend, he went through seven casts, including one damaged while snowmobiling. Says a friend and employee, Harold Hunter, "Mickey just isn't satisfied with doing things the ordinary way."
Life is now changing for Taylor. "For being a loner all of my life," he says, "I've sure got a lot of friends all of a sudden." Karen says, "He's a logger. He's really just used to talking to the trees." At the Derby, the Hills and Taylors were host to 110 friends and relatives from 34 states; for the Belmont, the number will top 200.
Yet for all the excitement, the centerpiece of the saga, Seattle Slew, strangely lacks charisma. It's as if all he can do is run. And, some critics have suggested, maybe not even that. Here are several theories as to why his popularity is no match for Secretariat's:
Jim Hill says that while Secretariat was a son of Bold Ruler, Slew is only a grandson. Others contend that while Secretariat was big and red and gorgeous, Slew is just an average-looking brown. Perhaps it's because Slew's owners come from outside the racing fraternity and there is resentment that they have a big winner in just a few years. Also, Slew has raced only eight times and the company he has beaten has appeared unimpressive. Jockey Jean Cruguet's ability has been questioned, and there are people who think that had Steve Cauthen or Willie Shoemaker been the rider, interest would have burgeoned. Slew doesn't always set records and, indeed, doesn't always perform in eye-catching time. Perhaps it's too soon after Secretariat for another horse to capture the public's fancy. Maybe Slew's name just doesn't smack of greatness. And maybe all this is fast being taken care of and a Belmont victory will do the trick. Certainly, if he continues to race, the mystique will grow as long as he remains undefeated.
The possibility of defeat remains always a bump or a bad step away, which is why the Taylors and Hills remind each other before each race, "Keep smiling and no excuses." Says Hill, "That's what we'll do until we can get to the nearest building and jump off." For good reason. The money involved is enormous. Not the $608,000 Slew has won racing; that's really only expense and bar money. It's what's beyond. And while the owners say they plan to race Slew as a 4-year-old, that seems chancy. For if something should happen to the horse—as it did to Ruffian—the loss would be incalculable.
If the Hills and Taylors keep Slew rather than syndicate him, they can count on breeding him to at least 40 mares a year for about $100,000 each. If he produces 30 live foals, that would bring in $3 million a year. The money would be assured for five years, until it can be proved at the races how good Slew's offspring are. If they are excellent, the stud fee would increase; if poor, the fee would decrease. Meanwhile there is intense pressure. One racing expert says that if Slew loses the Belmont, his worth at stud could drop to about $30,000 per service. "Whatever happens," says Mickey, "Slew has guaranteed our lives."