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"Even after winning here, Slew needs another race before he runs in the Marlboro. We hope to get a mile or a mile-and-an-eighth race at Belmont before that, but if we can't find such a race there early in September, a couple of other options are open to us."
At Saratoga, the return of Seattle Slew drew a strange reaction. In the walking ring he danced around and hammed it up as he always does, but the applause was scanty. Slew has been a puzzlement since his owners sent him to Hollywood Park after last year's Triple Crown, only to see him struggle home fourth in the Swaps, walloped by 16 lengths by J. O. Tobin. The owners had gone against trainer Billy Turner's advice (Turner felt that the horse badly needed a rest), and in December the Slew crew and Turner parted. Turner was obviously fired for being too outspoken.
"I love Seattle Slew," he said recently. "I always will. A trainer gets his hands on a horse like him only once in his life. Yes, I'm outspoken. I say what I want to say and let it go at that. When I train a horse, I don't want owners around the barn from morning until night. If you were to say that the owners and I are on good terms, you'd be dead wrong. One morning this spring Slew was standing outside his barn at Belmont and I walked over and patted him and said, 'Hey, Slew, how you doin'?' then walked away. I didn't see it, of course, but someone who did said the entire Slew crew just froze."
Reflecting on Seattle Slew's career after Saturday's race, Taylor said, "Yes, I know we've been criticized and second-guessed. The racetrack is a tough place. Sure, we've done some things wrong. But now we're going to prove that we know what we're doing."
Taylor and Hill also feel they can salvage their season of controversy and near-disaster if Slew can run in, and win. the Marlboro. "We're not afraid of Affirmed," Taylor said. "We've watched every one of his races this year and watched them carefully. He's an outstanding horse, but so is Slew. Affirmed had better be ready when the Marlboro Cup comes up, because he's going to see one big, black butt in front of him."
After he won on Seattle Slew last Saturday, jockey Jean Cruguet was easing Slew up on the backstretch when the place horse. Proud Birdie, the long-shot winner of last year's Marlboro, came alongside in a canter. Suddenly Slew started to take off, as if ready to run another race. "If the outrider hadn't grabbed hold of Slew," Cruguet said, "he would've gone around the racetrack again and still been running good."
The 1977 Triple Crown winner returned to the circle in front of the stands to polite applause. Obviously the fans didn't know what to make of his race or how to compare it with Affirmed's. Slew's running time for the seven furlongs, over a sloppy track, was a creditable 1:21[3/5]; Affirmed was timed in a stake-record 1:47[4/5] for his mile and an eighth over a good track. But the important thing is not to make any firm comparison just yet, but rather to speculate about the unparalleled confrontation in September.