The problem was that he had been plagued in the last few weeks by physical ailments. In the Woodward he was suffering from a bruised frog, an extremely sensitive part of the hoof, on his right front. "He came out of the Woodward dead lame," said one of his veterinarians, Robert Fritz. The bruise was cut away and cauterized, and the colt was fitted with two protective shoes. With them he won the Marlboro.
About 10 days before the Oct. 20 Gold Cup, he developed two quarter cracks, painful splittings of the hoof wall, on the same right front foot. The cracks were patched with fiber glass, and Slew won. Then, four days before the Breeders' Cup, he developed a third quarter crack on the same hoof. To further complicate matters, Slew O' Gold had a swelling of the tendon sheath in his right hock. At 4 a.m. on Friday, veterinarian Judd Butler put a patch on the new crack, and a couple of hours later Slew O' Gold worked a useful three-eighths of a mile, showing no signs of distress.
The colt's difficulties had given others in the race a reason for hope. "If he fires, if he's in top shape, nobody can beat Slew O' Gold," said Wild Again's trainer, Vincent Timphony. Leroy Jolley, the trainer of Track Barron, had the choice of entering his colt in either the Classic or the Sprint, a softer touch, and he finally opted to run in the Classic. Jolley figured he had a good shot under the circumstances.
It was not easy to make a case for Wild Again, at least not on paper. Last year as a 3-year-old, he had missed almost the entire season after having bone chips removed from a knee late in 1982. He had broken a track record at Oaklawn Park last April, but then was winless in six starts before triumphing in the 1�-mile Meadowlands Cup Handicap by six lengths on Sept. 3. The challenge now was to get Wild Again fit enough for the Classic.
"He's a poor work horse," said Bill Allen, a Miami insurance executive who, with fellow exec Terry Beal and Dallas real-estate developer Ron Volkman, paid $35,000 for the colt as a yearling. "We had to have a race for him."
So Volkman called an old friend, Harry Krovitz, the racing secretary at Bay Meadows, and asked him to write a race for the colt. What they got was a one-mile sprint on the grass. Wild Again finished third. But thanks, Bay Meadows, the race obviously did the job. Because Wild Again was not eligible for the Breeders' Cup, the owners had to put up $360,000 to supplement him, the largest such fee ever paid in racing history. Those who didn't know Wild Again were laughing at the three.
Slew O' Gold, despite his hard-luck hoof, was the odds-on favorite, with Preakness winner Gate Dancer given the solidest chance to pick him off. The stretch-running colt with the weird-looking ear muffs had since won the Omaha Gold Cup by 5� and the $500,000 Super Derby by a head. "Knock on wood; he's just as good as you can make him," said Gate Dancer's trainer, Jack Van Berg. "There's plenty of the speed in the race. It should set right up for him."
It almost did, and at the head of the stretch Gate Dancer looked as if he was going to win. By then Slew's stablemate, a rabbit named Mugatea, had pushed the front-running Wild Again through a half mile in a fiery :45[3/5]. As Mugatea faded, another rocket, Precisionist, had taken a run at the colt. But Wild Again stretched his neck and raced to the three-quarter mark in a sparkling 1:10[3/5]. Wild Again still had Slew and Gate Dancer to fight off. Slew raced up next to him on the bend for home.
Slew came to his whiskers, but could gain no more. They straightened out for home, racing in tandem, and that's when that glorious stretch duel began. "When I came to him at the quarter pole, Wild Again got a little tired and started drifting out on me," Cordero said. "He brushed my horse."
Pincay now swooped down on the outside with Gate Dancer. "I thought I was going to win it," he said.