Luck is an odd thing. People sometimes say, "I'd rather be lucky than good anytime," but they don't mean it. For to credit luck—as in being born under a lucky star or with a silver spoon in your mouth—is somehow to discredit one's own abilities. Who wants to do that? So to praise a person for his luck has come to be condescending, a kind of backhanded compliment, even a catty affirmation that, sadly, talent doesn't count for everything.
Nevertheless, meet Mickey Lucky, one of the four owners (all in their 30s) of Seattle Slew. Slew is a racehorse of great and perhaps wondrous abilities—and has had some luck himself—who tries Saturday in the Belmont Stakes to become the first undefeated thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown. O.K., Mickey's birth certificate does say his last name is Taylor, but hospitals make mistakes.
Mickey subscribes to the theory that "the harder I work, the luckier I get." He is a diligent man with a keen, even exceptional, eye for business. But Dame Fortune has called on him so often over the years that he now lists her as a dependent on his income tax return. He has to. About five years ago she moved in with Mick and his wife Karen, in their cream and brown trailer in White Swan. Wash. That week Mickey went to a Los Angeles track and bet on an 80-to-1 shot. The big favorite in the race acted up in the starting gate and was scratched; Mickey's pick won and returned $62,000 to Taylor. Says Mickey, "I made my score, wrapped up my horns and stopped gambling." Hello, Lucky.
To get to White Swan, it is necessary to drive to nowhere, then turn right. The town of 220 is located in the heart of the Yakima Indian Reservation. The main points of interest are the sagebrush and the Texaco station. All of which proves anew that you don't need a huge launching pad and bright lights to become a shooting star. The Taylors have swept across the country and stunned the staid racing community in the East, which believes if you're not a Vanderbilt or a Whitney, or at least very comfortable breaking bread with them, then you probably don't belong in the big time.
In truth, Mickey Taylor, a logger and a son of a logger, can appear out of place. He wears cowboy boots, and when made to put on a tie, looks like a little boy forced to dress up for Sunday School. Karen is the former airline stew whose eyes can be seen lighting up TV screens nightly as she rhapsodizes on Slew. Together they produce the appearance of Jet Set glamour and ail-American whole-someness. They belong in a Norman Rockwell painting. Get a frame.
Sharing in the good fortune, if not in the publicity, and very much belonging in a Rockwell work themselves, are co-owners Dr. and Mrs. Jim Hill of Garden City, L.I. To get to Garden City, drive to Manhattan and call a cab. Hill, the son of a Florida rancher and sometime shrimper, is the veterinarian who pointed to Slew and insisted to Mickey Taylor that the colt was worth $17,500. Slew's price is now $10 million, give or take a few million. Hello, Lucky. Sally Hill, who describes herself as the one among the four who "comes late and leaves early," is the chief party-giver.
And that is important. For the Taylors, the Hills and an army of friends are laughing and partying like there's no tomorrow. Mickey stumbled out the other morning after an especially gratifying evening and muttered, "Did any of you get the license number of that Jack Daniel's bottle that ran over me?" A friend said he didn't happen to and went on to lament, "I got back to the hotel and threw my clothes all over the room." Said Mickey, "So did I, only I was still wearing them."
As Slew started his blitz this season, it was widely assumed that Karen Taylor was the sole owner. After all, it said so in racing programs and in all the stories. And Karen is adept at playing the press like a piano, seldom hitting discords. "Working for the airlines got me used to being hassled," she says. Then it started dawning on people that Mickey was more than the owner's husband, and so by Kentucky Derby time he was sharing equal billing with Karen in conversations around the barns.
Meanwhile, the Hills were always in evidence. But he was viewed simply as the vet, she as the vet's wife. Asked at Hialeah several months ago what was wrong with Slew that required his constant presence, Hill said, "It's not what's wrong, it's what's right." Nobody understood, but everyone smiled. By Preakness time it was becoming clear what was right was that the Hills owned Slew, too. The press had trouble with this. In one article, Hill was referred to as Dr. Jim Smith; in another, Sally was called Barbara. With no rancor, Hill observed that a Louisville paper, in 26 pages of Derby coverage, mentioned him once: "It only bothers me because Slew may be one of the great horses of all time and I'll just be known as the vet."
Today each of the four has a definite role: Karen is the PR person, the bright and earnest interview who can always give television 30 cheery seconds; Mickey is the business brain; Hill is in charge of Slew's health; and Sally is emerging as a marketing pro (that's her profession) who will have much to say in the days ahead as SS goes commercial. But, Sally admits, "Jim and Mickey have one tremendous talent—ignoring Karen and me." Amid all the hoopla, Mickey observes, "If you can't enjoy this, there's something wrong with you." Still, it was left to Hill to remind the group of this fact the other day when confusion was mounting and tempers were fraying. "Hey, we have to stop and enjoy this," he said. "The four of us are so lucky to walk this way." There's that word again.