Seattle Slew: 1977 Triple Crown Winner
By DerbyDeals.com Staff
Before Secretariat’s record setting Triple Crown run in 1973, it had been 25 years since a horse had pulled off winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. The next horse to step into racing immortality would only be four years away, as Seattle Slew excited the racing world with his great performances in the spring of 1977.
Seattle Slew was foaled in Lexington, Kentucky on February 14th, 1974 at White Horse Acres Farm. Seattle Slew was the first foal out of My Charmer, who was also a first foal. Mickey and Karen Taylor of White Swan, Washington had affection towards first foals and purchased the young colt for $17,500 at the Fisig-Tipton Auction in Lexington. From there, he was given his name and moved to Maryland to be trained by William Turner. There was little hype or fanfare surrounding the birth, acquisition and training of Seattle Slew, but in short order the world of thoroughbred racing would see that this colt might be something special.
His maiden race came at Belmont Park, and he had a fairly easy five-length victory, which would be the first of nine consecutive wins Seattle Slew would pull off between September, 1976 and June, 1977. After winning an allowance race just a few weeks later, Turner and jockey Jean Cruget set their sights on Seattle Slew’s first graded stakes race. Belmont Park and the Grade I Champagne Stakes is where he ran his first mile long race and what a race it was. He broke from the gate in fine fashion and quickly held a two-length lead. He sustained that lead for much of the race, only being challenged at the top of the home stretch by For The Moment. For The Moment started to fade while Seattle Slew seemed to pick up steam, eventually winning by ten lengths. He set a Champagne Stakes mark of 1:34.40, a time that still stands as the record today. Even though he had raced only three times in 1976, he was named the two-year-old champion and expectations were high going into the new year.
On March 7th of 1977, Seattle Slew ran in an allowance race at Hialeah in Miami, Florida, as a warm up for the Flamingo Stakes. He won that race and the Flamingo Stakes was no challenge as he led the field by 12-lengths at one point, and won by eight in what was an easy ride for Cruget. He was now on a five race winning streak, and ready to face tough competition as he moved on to Aqueduct in New York for the Grade I Wood Memorial, which would be his final prep race for the Kentucky Derby. In the Wood, Seattle Slew was able to sustain his speed and fight off challenges from Catalan and Sanhedrin to win and move his winning streak to six, with the most important race of his young life in front of him.
Breaking slowly out of the gate, Seattle Slew had to fight tooth and nail to move towards the front of the field in the Kentucky Derby, but was able to push into second place by the middle of the first turn. For much of the race, he ran beside For the Moment, who wasn’t interested in relinquishing the lead to a horse that wasn’t likely to be caught from behind. At the head of the stretch, For the Moment couldn’t sustain the pace and tired as Run Dusty Run started making up ground towards the now front-running Seattle Slew. Seattle Slew pulled away momentarily by four lengths and wound up winning over a surging Run Dusty Run to take the “Run for the Roses”.
The Preakness was another tough race for Seattle Slew, but as usual, once he moved ahead, he stayed there. Cormorant was his main challenger and led for a portion of the race, but after Seattle Slew took the lead, Cormorant faded as Run Dusty Run and Iron Constitution tried to take make a run. Once again, Seattle Slew was able to sustain his speed and the field just wasn’t good enough. With the Preakness and Kentucky Derby behind him, he had one race left to win to reach the pinnacle of horse racing; the Triple Crown.
The Belmont Stakes was on the horizon, and like any feat worth achieving, the Triple Crown wasn’t going to come easy. Heavy storms had dumped lots of rain at Belmont and the track suffered from very sloppy conditions on race day. In addition to the inclement weather, earlier in the week, Seattle Slew’s normal exercise rider, Mike Kennedy, was unavailable due to a pari-mutuel strike. A new exercise rider was found but was unable to control the strong colt. At one point he lost control of him in a workout, and Seattle Slew had to be run down by several outriders. The rain, nor the lack of his usual exercise rider, could hold this horse back. He was destined to be a Triple Crown champion. He broke well out of the gate moving to his comfortable position up front at the head of the nine horse field. Along the back stretch, Spirit Level and Run Dusty Run challenged for the lead, but just couldn’t pull even with Seattle Slew, as he moved back out in front by a length when they approached the turn. He held that lead until the top of the stretch where he opened it up a bit and was able to take the victory with an enthusiastic fist pump from Cruget just before the finish line. He had done it! Seattle Slew took on the challenge and became the tenth Triple Crown winner in horse racing history, and the first to win it while undefeated. For his accomplishments, he was named the Eclipse Horse of the Year and the three-year-old champion.
Hollywood Park would be the setting for the final race of 1977 for Seattle Slew, as he was entered in the $400,000 Grade I Swaps Stakes. It was here that Seattle Slew would taste defeat for the first time, after having won nine consecutive races to begin his career. 1978 was an up-and-down year for Seattle Slew, as Doug Peterson took over training and due to a viral infection, he was unable to race until May. In his return, he ran in two seven-furlong allowance races, winning both, before he would take his last ride with long time jockey Jean Cruget aboard. Cruget and Seattle Slew would finish second in the Paterson Handicap and just eleven days later, Angel Cordero would take the reins. The Marlboro Cup and a showdown with Affirmed were up next in the first matchup of Triple Crown winning horses. Seattle Slew led most of the race and finished several lengths in front of Affirmed, who finished second. He would run three more times that year, winning twice, including his final race at Aqueduct Park. He was named as the U.S. Older Horse champion that year and wound up his career with 14 wins in 17 starts, earning over $1.2 million dollars.
Seattle Slew went back to his birth place in Kentucky and went to work as a stud. He was very successful in his new role, as he sired several Triple Crown race winners and champion offspring, including Swale, Slew O’ Gold, and A.P. Indy. He was inducted into the National Museum Racing and Hall of Fame in 1981 and is rated number 9 out of the greatest 100 race horses of the 20th century. He passed away 25 years to the day after his Kentucky Derby win and is buried at Hill N’ Dale Farm in Lexington. His legacy continues to live on in his progeny and in the hearts and minds of race fans all around the world who came to love this magnificent champion.