Colin. Think about him. He ran in 1907-08 and had the finest nickname of any horse: The Undefeated. He went to the post 15 times and never lost. Colin didn't win big, he just won. He ran his first three races in a period of seven days. He could handle any distance and any track. Sometimes he set records, but in the biggest race of his life, the Belmont Stakes, a fierce rainstorm prevented the clockers from determining his time. When a series of injuries forced Colin's retirement he was called "The greatest horse and the best ever bred in America, and probably the world."
Last Saturday at Pimlico racecourse in Baltimore, Seattle Slew took the 102nd Preakness Stakes. So far nobody has dared to compare Slew to Colin; it is far too early for that. But Seattle Slew is undefeated in eight races. Sometimes he sets track records and sometimes he does not. What he does is win.
"I was lucky enough to get close to some extraordinary horses," says Jimmy Jones, who trained for Calumet Farm. "Citation, Coaltown, Whirlaway, Two Lea, Tim Tam. When I look at Seattle Slew's record all I see is 1s. He wins, then he wins again. I hear people who should know better say, 'Seattle Slew hasn't beaten anybody.' Well, they're right about that. He hasn't beaten anybody, he's beaten everybody. How many horses has he beaten? Just all of them. I'm from Missouri and he's shown even me. But the best part about Seattle Slew is what's ahead. This show may just be starting."
Seattle slew eight opponents last week. Those closest to him at the finish were Iron Constitution, Run Dusty Run, Cormorant and J. O. Tobin. He made them look like Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen. Before the largest crowd (77,346) ever to attend a Preakness, he was powerful, strong, maneuverable and probably giggling at the end of the one mile and [3/16]ths. After the mile he was three lengths in front in the stunning time of 1:34⅘ and through the long stretch Jockey Jean Cruguet hit him hard only once and brought him coasting under the finish line. This performance could scare off virtually all opposition in future races.
On June 11, Seattle Slew will try to become the 10th Triple Crown winner and the first undefeated one. In many ways the site, New York's Belmont Park, is fitting, for it was there that Seattle Slew started his career last year. "That's his ball park," says Trainer Billy Turner. "He loves that racetrack. He has the home-court advantage there. But let me say one thing: he is getting better. He has only run eight times, so he doesn't have a great deal of experience. He has still some more to show."
The Preakness was the fourth $100,000 race that Seattle Slew has knocked off in eight weeks and his earnings now top $600,000. He has faced 74 horses and beaten every one with ease. Opponents that try to run with him early do not just get beaten, they get smashed.
Throughout Preakness Week Seattle Slew was surrounded by knockers spouting all the sport's cliches. It was said that he had beaten a mediocre field in the Kentucky Derby and that his running time (2:02[1/5]) was absurdly slow. Jim Hill, who admitted for the first time last week that he is a part owner of Seattle Slew as well as his veterinarian, was asked about the Derby clocking. "We looked at the race on videotape and put a watch to it," Hill said. "Slew had tremendous problems coming out of the starting gate. He broke flatfooted and sideways and he was behind just about everybody. Considering that he had to fight his way into contention, his time for the six furlongs was exceptional. He might have gone those six furlongs in 1:09 and some change with no trouble."
Slew's Derby run so impressed people who know horses that only two Churchill Downs starters (Run Dusty Run and Sir Sir) came back to try him in the Preakness. However, the field at Pimlico was stronger than the one Slew faced in Louisville. Run Dusty Run, the Derby runner-up, was joined by the speedball Cormorant, who had won seven of nine lifetime starts. The late-closing Iron Constitution had beaten him the week before the Preakness and that colt also was entered at Pimlico. And there was J. O. Tobin, England's top 2-year-old of 1976, who had proved he could win just as convincingly in the U.S. by taking the Coronado Handicap at Hollywood Park late in April.
Before the Preakness Slew's knockers were claiming that he could be defeated if he drew an outside post position. This year horses breaking along the rail at Pimlico have done exceptionally well (nearly 40% have won). As things turned out, Seattle Slew drew the eight stall in the nine-horse field. The swift Cormorant was assigned the inside post.
"There can be an advantage in Slew's drawing an outside position," Billy Turner said. "At the Derby he drew No. 4 and had to stand around while 11 other colts were loaded. Here Slew goes in, then one other horse, then bingo, they're off. I have a feeling Slew will not have any trouble coming out of the gate. For Slew, that is. He never really breaks well. We're still working on that."
When the gate sprang open on Saturday Slew was away alertly for once, and he and Cormorant sped off in front moving into the first turn. Turner had thought that Cormorant would be two or three lengths in front coming out of that turn but Cormorant never opened up a big lead. Slew trailed him closely down the backstretch and accelerated in the far turn. He moved by the pacesetter, dispatching him with ease. Iron Constitution passed tiring horses in the stretch to close the gap to a length and a half. "My horse ran super," said Cormorant's jockey, Danny Wright. "He tried his best and gave me everything. He did everything I asked when I asked. We couldn't outfoot Seattle Slew."
Can anyone? Probably not. Although Cormorant finished fourth, he ran the best race, excluding Seattle Slew. "Our horse was good and game," said Cormorant's trainer, Jim Simpson. "If we didn't give it a try, nobody was going to. If we didn't go after him, it would have been a walkover. I don't know about running Cormorant in the Belmont. Oh, he's nominated, but it would be like tackling a monster."
Slew's Preakness was the second fastest. His time (1:54[2/5]) matched Secretariat's in 1973 and was only bettered by Canonero II (1:54) in 1971. Last year he took the 105-year-old Champagne Stakes, this country's top 2-year-old event, running that mile faster than any horse ever had. In his first outing this season Slew broke the seven-furlong track record at Hialeah, then won the Flamingo in the third-fastest time and did so while being eased up from the top of the stretch.
Two hours after the Preakness, Mickey and Karen Taylor and Dr. Hill and his wife Sally gathered at their horse's barn. Slew stood on a grassy spot not far from the shedrow. The colt looked magnificent, and a crowd gathered to ogle him. The only sound came from a rock band playing outside the track gates. Turner looked at his colt and said, "Let's get him back inside. I don't want him upset." The trainer was asked why, before the race, he had given Slew Butazolidin, an analgesic used to relieve lameness. "It was a precaution," he said. "I knew the track would be fast and I didn't want his feet hurt."
Turner rubbed his hands together and began walking in small circles. "Now we've got another dance to go to," he said. "The Belmont. I wonder how many will start against him. There's Sanhedrin and probably Iron Constitution and maybe Habitony from California. That's three." He threw up his hands. "No," he said, "12 or 13 will show up. Horses will fall out of trees to run against him. People probably still won't believe that Seattle Slew is one heck of a good horse. I don't think he has run his best race yet. And he loves Belmont Park. We should be at the stage where we don't have to prove anything more, but in horse racing you always do. I've lost 10 pounds in the past few weeks and I didn't weigh that much going into this thing." Turner is 6'2" and rail thin. He looked into his colt's stall and said, "Hey, Slew, you are some kind of racehorse. Oh man, am I proud of you."
The quest is to become not just the 10th Triple Crown winner, but also the only undefeated one. The Triple Crown victors are—roll of the drums, please—Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat. Joining that list would be a grand accomplishment. But think about Colin. He is another ghost Seattle Slew is chasing.