Seattle Slew

If you haven’t watched the movie Secretariat recently, it’s definitely worth a view this week. True, it’s “not a documentary, it’s a Disney Movie,” as many of the reviews noted in 2010. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty great Disney movie. And it gives a wonderful sense of the power - even the genius - of some of these horses. Not to mention the crap shoot involved in raising and running a “winning” horse. Beyond that, we are reminded of the very fact of the rarity of a Triple Crown winner - a three year old thoroughbred, with not a lot of races under its saddle.

Prior to Secretariat, some had started to question whether another Triple Crown win was even possible for any one horse, given the new worlds of horse breeding and training. Indeed, a horse hadn’t won all three races (Derby, Preakness, Belmont) since Citation in 1948.  But Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown only four years after Secretariat’s accomplishment. 

Slew bested Secretariat by winning with an undefeated career. (Secretariat had had some spectacular losses - as dramatized in the movie - leading up to the Kentucky Derby. That said, Secretariat retains the speed record - indeed the world record for that length of hard track - for the Belmont stakes. Secretariat won his Belmont by 31 lengths.)

A big part of the Slew story lies in the humble aspect of his origins. He had been purchased for only $17.5K. And he looked funny. (His right front foot turned out; he swayed to the right when he ran.) He was owned by two couples, not some huge syndicate. They bought him in 1975 when a vet pointed them in the direction of a huge horse with a small tail.

The jockey Jean Cruguet empowered  Slew’s victories. The horse was often jittery at the gate. At the Derby, “[w]hen the gate shot up, a startled Slew lunged, stumbled and jerked his head sideways, cutting his mouth. It bled the entire race. The 13 other starters took off ahead of him.” But Cruguet steadied him, guided him strategically through the crowd, and let him run.

I only accompanied Robert to the track a couple of times. When we were living in New York City, we would go out to Belmont for him to get some shots. As I recall, they weren’t “big” races. Nevertheless, standing with him  right at the edge of the track (his reputation got him some pretty great shot-spots), the sense of the power of the horses in full run, of their massive size and strength and speed, astonished me. It’s something you don’t get from seeing it on TV/film. 

The photo links above are to Getty Images, RRLT’s current image licensing site. (They have a whole array of options for purchasing images through them, if you’re interested.) But I also attach a Robert pic of Slew from their site. As well as a pic of a lovely, huge (40” long) photo Robert himself framed for one of his exhibits. We have it hanging in the Gallery. It so well captures the otherworldly magic of a horse in full, competitive stride.


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