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Enter a horse, stage left. He is nameless, and only the number 128 pasted on his hip gives him identity. It is a rainy Saturday evening in Lexington, Ky. and the brown is about to be sold, one of 4,918 yearlings put up for auction in 1975. A sales company employee has inspected the colt. His report is frank and confidential: "Well above average in size, shiny coat, bright, alert...not the most handsome individual around the head but a well-developed shoulder...a good spring of ribs (lots of room for heart and lungs)...he is, in truth, out in the right foreleg...unlikely to impede a racing career...free of worms."
The bidding starts at $3,000, then climbs in increments of $500 to $7,000. After only 19 bids, the gavel of the Fasig-Tipton auctioneer comes down at $17,500. A stopwatch shows it has taken only 90 seconds to sell the son of Bold Reasoning and My Charmer. Nobody knows that this will be Seattle Slew, a thoroughbred who will dominate his crop as Man o'War, Count Fleet, Citation, Native Dancer and Secretariat did theirs. Nobody knows that this colt will become a Triple Crown winner—the only undefeated one and the only one ever sold at public auction.
The drama of Seattle Slew has received feature billing for months, the road company winning raves as it moved through Florida, Kentucky and Maryland on its way to the colt's grandest triumph last Saturday in the $181,800 Belmont Stakes. He now is 9-for-9 and has his Triple Crown. Wealthy Texans are clamoring to buy him, with one reported offer of $14 million. Now his head looks handsome indeed, and his leg pretty straight. He's a dream horse—and not just for his owners, Karen and Mickey Taylor and Jim and Sally Hill.
Swells clogged center stage in the Belmont paddock as the field was saddled for the mile-and-one-half classic. Standing alone in the wings was Alfred Vanderbilt, who a quarter of a century before raced that marvelous gray, Native Dancer, winner of 21 of 22 starts. "I've lived with a fantasy ever since." Vanderbilt said. "It is there every morning when I wake and every night when I sleep. Native Dancer was beaten in the Kentucky Derby. In my fantasy I put the horse that beat him in the stall right next door. I see a shedrow of champions and those who defeated them. Dark Star side by side with Native Dancer, Upset with Man o'War.... Sooner or later all horses get beat, so you should have the extra stall ready. Slew could be beaten today or the next time out. But I hope the young people who own him don't have that stall and never need one."
Vanderbilt smiled. "When great horses come along, they make you dream all sorts of dreams," he said. One can only wonder about the fantasies of the Taylors and the Hills, who in 22 months have seen the value of their Lexington purchase increase some 8,000-fold. Conservatively, the horse is worth $12 million, which is just about twice what Secretariat was priced at four years ago. If Slew had lost the Belmont, the figure would be far different. His market value would have been cut in half.
Though Slew has never been ballyhooed like Secretariat, 70,229 showed up to see him win the final leg of the Triple Crown on a dank, wind-whipped day, which was more than the 67,605 Secretariat drew to the same classic in 1973.
Slew smothered the Belmont field so completely, leading from start to finish, that his seven opponents looked as if they were running in place. Run Dusty Run challenged early in the backstretch hut Slew just moved out a notch. A half-mile later Sanhedrin made a bid, but for naught. Slew drew away as he headed home. A few jumps before the winning post. Jockey Jean Cruguet, once a $20-a-month bartender in the French army, stood high in his stirrups and waved his whip to the crowd in jubilation. It was a bizarre gesture, one that will be recalled whenever people talk about horses or those who ride them.
Slew won by four lengths. His trainer, 37-year-old Billy Turner, called it "the easiest race of his career." Run Dusty Run was second and Sanhedrin finished 2� lengths back in third.
The track was listed as muddy, but Belmont's racing surface dries quickly in a wind like the one that blew on Saturday. By post time the going was wet-fast. Slew handled it with ease, taking an almost casual 2:29[3/5] to roll to his triumph.
On a rainy morning three days before, Cruguet declared, "Slew will win. Of this I have no doubt, no concern. He is growing now, becoming a man. Every day he learns more. He is a relaxed horse; he knows who he is. People ask why doesn't he win by more lengths, why doesn't he set track records every time he runs? People say Jean Cruguet is a dummy. I know that. I read. I hear. When you ride in France, as I did, you learn not to win races by a lot, because if you do the handicapper will pile weight on your horse. I have said all along that we really haven't seen how good Seattle Slew is. There should be no great mystery about the Belmont. He will come out of the gate and, boom! We will be on the lead. Nobody can run with him. The horses that have tried got burned. He will run well enough to win. No records. Just win. Maybe you will not see all of Seattle Slew in the Belmont. We do not really know how much of the all there is."