Douglas R. Peterson
Angel Cordero Jr.
Seattle Slew was an American thoroughbred race horse who won the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in 1977, the tenth of eleven horses to accomplish the feat. He remains the only horse to win the Triple Crown while undefeated. In the Blood-Horse magazine List of Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century, Seattle Slew is ranked ninth.
A descendant of the great sire Nearco through his son, Nasrullah, Seattle Slew was sired by Bold Reasoning and out of My Charmer. He was foaled at Ben Castleman's White Horse Acres Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. Not expected to be a great racehorse, he was sold to Karen and Mickey Taylor of White Swan, Washington. They named him for the city of Seattle, and for the sloughs loggers once used to transport heavy logs. But Karen felt that the spelling of slough—a slow-moving channel of the Pacific Northwest—would be too hard for people to remember, so the spelling was changed to Slew. The colt's co-owners were Jim and Sally Hill. Another co-owner was Glenn Rasmussen, the Certified Public Accountant for the horse partnerships.
As a 2 Year Old
Slew began his career on September 20, 1976 in the fifth race at Belmont Park on Long Island, New York, a six furlong maiden race. He was a big, nearly black two year old, and was bet down to the 5–2 favorite. He gave the public its first look at what his fans would later call a "War Dance," his habit of tiptoeing on the track before his races, and won by five lengths. Seattle Slew started only two more times as a two-year-old, winning an allowance race by 3½ lengths on October 5, 1976, and the Champagne Stakes 11 days later by 9 3/4 lengths in a fast 1:34 2/5. Despite starting just three times, Seattle Slew was named the Champion 2 year old of 1976.
Preparing for the Triple Crown
Billy Turner, Slew's trainer, waited to start Seattle Slew as a three-year-old until March 9, 1977, when he won an allowance race by nine lengths at Hialeah in track record time for seven furlongs. On March 26, 1977, Seattle Slew won the Flamingo Stakes by four lengths in the third fastest time in stakes history.
Seattle Slew then added the Wood Memorial Stakes on April 23, 1977 by 3 1/4 lengths, in his final prep for the Kentucky Derby.
Seattle Slew went off as the prohibitive 1-to-2 favorite in the Kentucky Derby on May 7, 1977. Seattle Slew was a speed horse who normally broke well and went right to the lead, but in the Derby, he swerved and was taken up by jockey Jean Cruguet. However, Cruguet and Seattle Slew were able to recover and get to the lead. Seattle Slew dueled with For the Moment for the first mile of the race. At the top of the stretch, Seattle Slew pulled away to win by 1¾ lengths over Run Dusty Run.
Two weeks later, in the Preakness Stakes, Seattle Slew faced a new rival, multiple stakes winner Cormorant. Many handicappers believed the likely speed duel with Cormorant would jeopardize Slew's chances; Andrew Beyer picked Cormorant to win in his Washington Post column. Seattle Slew outlasted Cormorant and held off Iron Constitution to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
The Belmont Stakes was an easy coronation for Seattle Slew, who won by four lengths. He became the tenth American Triple Crown Winner and, with his 9 for 9 record, the first Triple Crown winner to finish the series undefeated.
After the Triple Crown
In the Swaps, Seattle Slew, who normally broke on the lead, was unable to get to the front, as Bill Shoemaker sent J.O. Tobin, whom Seattle Slew had easily beaten in the Preakness, to the lead. J.O. Tobin set very fast fractions for a 1 1/4 mile race, running 22 2/5 to the 1/4 mile, 45 2/5 to the 1/2 mile, 1:09 1/5 to the 3/4 mile, and 1:33 3/5 to the mile. Seattle Slew was not able to keep up, and tired badly in the stretch, finishing fourth, 16 lengths behind J.O. Tobin, who won by 8 lengths in 1:58 3/5, just 2/5 of a second off the American record for the distance at the time. After this loss, rest and physical problems would ultimately keep Seattle Slew away from the races for almost a year.
Despite the season ending loss, Seattle Slew was honored at year's end as champion three-year-old and the Eclipse Award for American Horse of the Year.
In early 1978, Seattle Slew was stabled at Hialeah and was expected to make three starts in Florida before contesting the Metropolitan Mile in New York. In Florida, the horse, who had recovered from his cough as a three year old, took a turn for the worse in January 1978. He stopped eating and sometimes broke into sweats, which lasted for hours. At times, he fell when he tried to stand. Hill diagnosed a viral infection and feared Slew might die.
Slew recovered slowly. When he finally made it back to the races on a sloppy track at Aqueduct in May, Seattle Slew had a new trainer, Douglas Peterson, who replaced Turner.
Slew won that allowance race at Aqueduct easily, by eight and a half lengths on a sloppy surface, and later another seven furlong allowance race by six lengths at Saratoga Race Course in August. In preparation for a heralded matchup against the 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, Seattle Slew was sent to the Meadowlands for a night time race, the Paterson Handicap. Slew narrowly lost to Dr. Patches in a major upset. Cruguet lost the mount after that race, after expressing doubt the horse was trained sufficiently for the race.
In the Marlboro Cup, the first ever matchup of two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew was not the favorite, for the first and only time of his career. Angel Cordero, Jr. took the reins as Slew's new jockey. Affirmed was the 1–2 favorite. Seattle Slew was the 2–1 second choice. Affirmed's arch rival, Alydar, was scheduled to run and scratched the week before the race.
Affirmed and Seattle Slew were both speed horses. Seattle Slew broke first and stayed there into the homestretch. Cordero took Slew somewhat wide off the final turn and Affirmed came up on on him for a moment, but Seattle Slew opened up again to beat Affirmed by three lengths in the excellent time of 1:45 4/5 for a mile and an eighth, 2/5 of a second off the track record set by Secretariat.
Two weeks later, Slew easily won the Woodward Stakes over Exceller by four lengths at a mile and a quarter.
The '78 Jockey Club Gold Cup
Then, in October, Slew and Affirmed met again at the mile and a half Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, a showdown televised nationally on CBS. Affirmed's trainer, Laz Barrera, didn't want Seattle Slew to get an easy lead and dictate the pace like the Marlboro Cup, so Barrera entered a "rabbit" named Life's Hope in an attempt to tire Seattle Slew.
Barrera's plan was compromised as Seattle Slew set a blistering pace and Affirmed chased him along with Life's Hope. Seattle Slew pulled away from Affirmed and Life's Hope, and Affirmed's saddle then slipped, eliminating him from contention (he would finish 5th). Seattle Slew ran 22 3/5 to the first quarter, 45 1/5 to the half, and 1:09 2/5 to the 3/4 mile, virtually unheard of going a mile and a half.
However, sitting far back, Willie Shoemaker, riding Exceller, was able to take advantage of the fast, tiring pace. Exceller made a strong move on the far turn, and then was able to save ground by moving inside of Seattle Slew as Seattle Slew bore out turning for home. Exceller got the lead at the top of the stretch, but Seattle Slew gamely fought back and lost by a nose in a photo finish.
This stretch drive is still recalled by many to be among the all-time best—ranking with Sunday Silence and Easy Goer's Preakness in 1989 and the battles between Affirmed and Alydar. Despite the defeat, many analysts called this Seattle Slew's greatest performance. Andrew Beyer, always a Seattle Slew skeptic as a three-year-old, wrote for his lead; "Exceller won Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup. Seattle Slew was its hero."
Seattle Slew's Final Race
Seattle Slew's last race was an easy victory in the Stuyvesant Handicap in November at Aqueduct Racetrack, by three and a quarter lengths while carrying 134 pounds.
Seattle Slew retired with 14 wins in 17 races and earnings of $1,208,726. He was named Champion Older Horse in 1978, but lost the Horse of the Year balloting to the horse he handily defeated in the Marlboro Cup, Affirmed. He was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1981.
In retirement, Seattle Slew stood at stud at the Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. Slew was the leading sire of 1984, when his son Swale, who died later that year, won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. His other best progeny include the talented, but ill-fated 1982 champion two-year-old filly, Landaluce, Slew o'Gold, winner of the 1983 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Three-Year-Old Male Horse and the 1984 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Older Male Horse, the 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, sire of 2006 Preakness Stakes winner Bernardini, 2000 champion three-year-old filly Surfside, and 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches.He is also the only Belmont Stakes winner to sire a Belmont Stakes winner (A.P. Indy) who then in turn sired a Belmont Stakes winner (Rags to Riches).
A primary conduit for Seattle Slew's continuation of his male line has been through A.P. Indy. A.P. Indy has done very well at stud in Kentucky, getting, among others, the 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft. Currently, one of Seattle Slew's most successful grandsons is the California champion Lava Man, sired by Slew City Slew. In 2006, Lava Man became the first horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic Stakes in the same year. Seattle Slew was also a leading broodmare sire, his daughters producing, among others, Cigar, the all-time leading North American money-earner of his day.
Rags to Riches, a granddaughter, won the 2007 Belmont Stakes, the third filly to win the race following Ruthless in 1867 and Tanya in 1905. The win earned jockey John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher their first wins in any Triple Crown race. Rags To Riches was the 22nd filly to ever run in the Belmont.
In popular culture, Seattle Slew is referenced in the 1997 comedy film Liar Liar. At the climax of the divorce hearing, Jim Carrey's character, the lawyer Fletcher Reede, successfully argues that it does not matter that his client, Samantha Cole (Jennifer Tilly), "has been ridden more times than Seattle Slew" because she was under 18 at the time of signing the prenuptial agreement.
Seattle Slew is buried at Hill 'n' Dale Farms near Lexington, Kentucky.