One of the lesser-known stories from the legendary life of Seattle Slew involves his relationship with a Pinscher of a pooch.
Lance the Doberman belonged to Star Lee, sister of Mickey Taylor, who with his wife, Karen, owned the dark-brown colt. In Red Smith’s charming 1977 piece “The Favorite’s Day” – collected in the superb “To the Swift: Classic Triple Crown Horses and Their Race for Glory” (St. Martin’s Press) – the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist and Stamford resident described the scene right before the Kentucky Derby that year, with Lance tied near Seattle Slew’s barn in a roped-off area that warned “Beware of the Dog.”
Apparently, it was no idle threat: Lance was the guard dog for Taylor & Taylor, the family’s lumber company in White Swan, Wash. (The horse was named not only for the city in the Taylors’ home state but for the sloughs, pronounced “slews,” used to send logs down-river.) One night, Red writes, someone tried to climb the fence around the logging equipment.
The next day, Chester Taylor, Mickey’s father and Seattle Slew’s self-appointed head of security, found the seat of a pair of pants.
Yes, Lance had a limited number of associates. But among his few great friends was the racehorse himself. As Chester told Red, “Sometimes we tie (Lance) to the stall and they touch noses.”
It’s a lovely detail in a life that proved, in the words of the song, that “It’s Not Where You Start But Where You Finish.” Seattle Slew had an untested pedigree and an undistinguished start that began on Feb. 15, 1974 at White Horse Acres Farm outside Lexington, where he was born to Bold Reasoning out of My Charmer. He was so ungainly – all head, eyes and legs – that he kept crashing into the stall as he tried to nurse. His initial reputation for being big and clumsy earned him the nickname Baby Huey, after the cartoon character. With his chances for greatness slim, the Taylors, novice horse owners, picked him up for a mere $17,500 and sent him to their horse-training friend Billy Turner, who was based at Belmont Park.
Racing experts will tell you that it’s no coincidence that the last three Triple Crown champs – Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) – all boarded at Belmont, the last, longest and most challenging leg of the trifecta. But the high-spirited Seattle Slew also had certain qualities in common with shy Secretariat and laidback Affirmed that we should keep in mind as another Triple Crown season gets set to begin May 4 with the Kentucky Derby – speed, power and smarts, yes, but also endurance and above all, heart. The once clumsy foal, ridden by French jockey Jean Cruguet, blew away the competition to become the only horse to win the Triple Crown undefeated.
Seattle Slew met up with Affirmed twice in 1978, taking the first contest. (In the second, Exceller won, Seattle Slew placed and Affirmed finished out of the money when his saddle slipped.) Was Seattle Slew the greater champ?
In “Affirmed: The Last Triple Crown Winner” by former Snedens Landing resident Lou Sahadi (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed to his Triple Crown victories while still a teenager, said there was a big difference between a 3-year-old Affirmed and a mature 4-year-old Seattle Slew.
“It’s like asking a 10-year-old kid to run against a 20-year-old man.”
Now those arguments belong to history. Seattle Slew, who would outlive Secretariat and Affirmed, was put out to stud at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, sired 102 stakes winners and died in his sleep at age 28 on May 7, 2002 – just a day after the silver anniversary of his Kentucky Derby win.
When he passed, jockey Angel Cordero, who was aboard him when he beat Affirmed in the Marlboro Cup Handicap, called him the Muhammad Ali of racehorses – “jumping, strutting and cocky, but good – the best horse I’ve ever been on.”
It’s nice to think that he and Lance are romping together in that great hereafter where dog has his day and horses roam free.