Many first-year students at the University of Kentucky feel the hair rise on the back of their necks when they hear the words “freshman English.” Back in the day the class often separated the wheat from the chaff while offering a series of writing challenges from descriptive essays to argumentative papers. In the fall of 1978, I chose to write why Seattle Slew should be Horse of the Year over Affirmed. Both had won Triple Crowns, in 1977 and ’78 respectively, but when the two met head-to-head on Sept. 16, 1978, in the Marlboro Cup (G1), the 4-year-old Slew beat Affirmed on the square by three lengths.
Of course, my argument proved unsuccessful when the Eclipse Awards were announced a few months later, but I took my shot. I don’t recall the grade I received, but thank goodness my English professor wasn’t a handicapper; however, two of my economics professors could often be found at Keeneland on a spring or fall afternoon.
Slew’s exploits in the fall of ’78 were a postscript to his brilliant run to and through the 1977 Triple Crown. BloodHorse celebrates the 40th anniversary of the unbeaten Triple Crown winner’s campaign with the first-in-a-series look at his 3-year-old debut March 9 at Hialeah Park. Through a long-standing relationship with Seattle Slew’s co-owners Mickey and Karen Taylor, features editor Lenny Shulman is allowed to share with readers a certain insight into Slew’s racing history. His interviews with trainer Billy Turner fill in the splendid back story into the career of the horse rated as No. 9 on The Blood-Horse’s Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century (ahead of other late ’70s stars Spectacular Bid, No. 10; and Affirmed, No. 12).
Adding depth to the commentary are the colorful images of the late Tony Leonard. Leonard’s eye captured the sport like few others could in the 1970s—and beyond—and his images of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed preserve one of racing’s “Golden Ages.”
BloodHorse has been fortunate to have published many of Leonard’s images throughout the years, and has worked out an arrangement with the owners of the Tony Leonard Collection to share the photographer’s images of Seattle Slew with readers this year.
Of course, Seattle Slew’s story didn’t end with his 2-year-old championship, winning the Triple Crown, or his championship season at 4. His triumphant return to Kentucky to stand at stud at Spendthrift, syndicated at a record $12 million, was heralded as “Seattle Slew” day in the state of Kentucky by Gov. Julian Carroll. His first crop of runners, just 30 foals, yielded four grade 1 winners and two champions. Dual classic winner Swale came from his second, and Slew’s stud fee reached a reported $800,000 in 1985.
Slew’s legacy, through his most famous son A.P. Indy, is found in a remarkable number of today’s pedigrees as the great-grandsire of Tapit, North America’s leading sire three times running. A.P. Indy’s sons Malibu Moon, Majestic Warrior, Jump Start, and Bernardini grace this year’s top 20 leading sires…Mineshaft is No. 21.
Time loves a hero, and this series on Seattle Slew comes at an ideal time with the ability to catch several audiences: those too young to have been around; those that were really too young to grasp the true importance of Slew—myself included; and those who were around during the glory days but may have forgotten his power, charisma, and presence.