His name is Seattle Slew. Can do, can do. The guys say this horse can do. What he did last week was truly remarkable. In only the third start of his life and his first stakes appearance, Seattle Slew drubbed nine other top-rated 2-year-olds in the $137,250 Champagne at Belmont Park by 9¾ lengths, an astonishing margin in such a classy event. Until late last month Seattle Slew was just a rumor, a hope lingering in Barn 60 on the backstretch, but in a 26-day period he has advanced to stardom in a racing year already filled with a heady measure of fine races and performers. If Seattle Slew gets any better than he was on Champagne Day, he may become a folk hero, a national attraction with bumper stickers.
In an era of multimillion-dollar yearlings Seattle Slew comes running in from the dime store. He was bought at a Kentucky auction last year for $17,500. From there he was sent to a farm in Maryland where the stablehands quickly realized he was basically a clod. His right fore-hoof paddled outward, and he had so much trouble doing things properly that he soon was nicknamed Baby Huey after the ever-erring character in movie cartoons. Slowly, however, the slew-footed colt got things together, and the laughter on the shed row was replaced by affection. In April, after his first workout at Belmont, the affection was enhanced by optimism. And dreams.
The first fantasy was to have been played out at Saratoga in August when Seattle Slew was to start on the final day of the meeting. But the colt became playful in his stall, injured a hock and had to be withdrawn. Yet word of him was already moving along the backstretch.
That week at Saratoga Jockey Ron Turcotte rode a horse named For the Moment to victory in an allowance event and, after the race, was praising his mount in the jockeys' room. But fellow rider Jean Cruguet told Turcotte, "There is a better 2-year-old than that on the backstretch."
"What's his name?" asked Turcotte.
"I won't tell you," said Cruguet, "because if I do, you will try to get on him yourself."
Cruguet himself rode a very fine 2-year-old named Banquet Table on the final day of Saratoga, winning the $85,575 Hopeful Stakes, but the French-born jockey remained decidedly silent about his personal choice among the 2-year-olds, the mahogany-colored son of Bold Reasoning.
On Sept. 20 Seattle Slew finally started at Belmont and, because of hot workouts and hot rumors, he was bet down to 5 to 2 in a field of 12. He assumed command at the break and won by five lengths. Fifteen days later Billy Turner, the colt's 36-year-old trainer, entered him in a seven-furlong race. By now word of a wonder animal was all over the racetrack. The public made Seattle Slew the shortest-priced favorite of the meeting, despite the fact that he had drawn the inside post position, the worst at the track. (This fall only 8% of the races at Belmont have been won from the inside post.) Seattle Slew dwelt at the start but then charged to the front and drew off by 3½ lengths. What might he prove next?
"I wanted to run him in the Champagne," Turner said last Saturday evening, "but how often does a horse win the Champagne after only two starts? Then I decided sooner or later he would have to find out that things don't come easy."
Seattle Slew's main opponent in the Champagne was For the Moment, a full brother to Honest Pleasure who had won four of five starts, including a division of the Cowdin Stakes as well as the $119,255 Futurity at Belmont. Those wins put For the Moment at the head of the 2-year-old class, and already a half-interest in him had been sold by Waldemar Farms to Gerald Robins, a real estate developer in Miami, for half a million dollars.
That made no difference to New York horseplayers. Although eight of the Champagne starters had stakes experience, Seattle Slew was sent off as the 6-to-5 favorite. He broke from the gate as if his tail were aflame and barreled ahead. For the Moment took aim at Seattle Slew at the head of the stretch but it was soon apparent he could not close the gap. In fact, Seattle Slew pulled away. He finished the mile event in the stakes record time of 1:34[2/5] with Cruguet easing his mount up.
Each year since 1964 the horse first under the wire in the Champagne has been declared the 2-year-old champion. That honor could now come to Seattle Slew despite only three starts. A strong case can be made for Run Dusty Run, the 2-year-old son of 1970 Kentucky Derby winner Dust Commander. Run Dusty Run has won five of seven starts including the Arlington-Washington Futurity and the Breeders' Stakes at Keeneland; his bankroll is $231,010 compared to Slew's $94,350. The two horses will probably not meet this season.
Seattle Slew's owners, Karen and Mickey Taylor, are from White Swan, Wash., about 150 miles from Seattle. Seattle Slew was bought on the advice of Dr. Jim Hill, a Florida veterinarian. "We hoped to come up with a name that would handle both the Northwest and Florida," Hill says. "We tried a lot and most of them were denied by The Jockey Club. A slew is a muddy backwater in Florida." No matter how the name evolved, Seattle Slew is certainly no longer Baby Huey.
Slew is from the first crop of Bold Reasoning, who started only 12 times but won eight races, including the 1971 Withers and Jersey Derby. Cruguet maintains that the colt is the best 2-year-old he has ridden since Hoist the Flag won the 1970 Champagne, only to be disqualified. Last season the Taylors, who have been in racing only four years, had Lexington Laugh finish 10th in the Champagne. Later Lexington Laugh broke down and was destroyed. This Champagne promises a happier, vintage ending.
Secretariat won the Champagne by a modest two lengths, Buckpasser by four, Foolish Pleasure by six, Riva Ridge and Honest Pleasure by seven and Never Bend by eight. Seattle Slew has already put on a better show on Champagne Day than some of America's most celebrated thoroughbreds.