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May 10, 2002
by Bill Hogan



I found it interesting that Seattle Slew, one of horse racing's greatest champions, died exactly twenty-five years after winning the Kentucky Derby. (In 1977, he'd go on to win the Triple Crown.)

After reading many tributes to the champion thoroughbred this past week, I've come to a not-so-startling conclusion. This horse had it made.


First of all, he was twenty-eight years old. A youngster by human standards, but I have to figure that horses must age in about the same manner as dogs. If I'm right (and please correct me if I'm not) then Slew was pushing two hundred when he passed on May 7.

After all, a full-grown animal that reaches world class status at the age of three must develop at a far more rapid pace than we do. At least I hope so. I'm still trying to get my three-year-old to keep his fingers out of his mouth and flush the toilet when he's done.

In a career regarded as one of the all-time greatest, Slew only lined up at the starting gate seventeen times. He won fourteen of those races, twice finished second and earned over 1.2 million dollars.

At Hollywood Park on July 3, 1977, in his first race after capturing the Triple Crown, Slew finished a distant fourth.

I wonder if the sports media got on his case about slacking off after that mediocre performance. I doubt it. I'm sure the blame rested with the jockey, or the trainer, or the track conditions. A champion thoroughbred is rarely subjected to scrutiny - on or off the track.

They are rewarded and heralded for their athletic accomplishments but somehow manage to steer clear of the trouble that often plagues today's sports star.

You never hear about a prize colt getting into a bar fight or slapping around a filly or two.

They don't worry about being dragged into court on drug or DWI charges, or to testify in strip club trials.

They aren't harassed by disenchanted fans at restaurants or stalked by obsessed groupies.

Nobody has ever accused a thoroughbred of throwing a race or shaving furlongs or faking an injury. And if they test positive for illegal substances, it really isn't their fault.

There aren't any long, drawn out discussions on sports talk shows about how a Triple Crown winner should be more of a role model.

And when the favorite finishes in the back of the pack, there are no Sportscenter sound bytes of the dejected loser berating the media, the fans, and the trainer and ranting on about being an MVH (Most Valuable Horse).

They don't have to worry about a wad of half-eaten hay showing up on the auction block or being the next horse's ass to appear in a Penthouse pictorial.

No fines, no suspensions, no walkouts, no lockouts, no alimony, no palimony, no custody battles and no restraining orders. (I could go on and on, but I don't want to beat a dead horse).

The bottom line is, when the race is won, and the bettors have long since left the grandstand, its back to the paddock to strap on the old feedbag.

In all, it took Seattle Slew seventeen events over three years to become a legend in the world of horse racing. The sport of kings had a new crowned prince and the business' royalty bowed to him. What a life.

It took Willie Mays twenty-two Hall of Fame seasons to command that kind of respect. And when his baseball career was over, he still had to go out and get a job.

Seattle Slew's career spanned twenty-six months and only when he retired did the fun really begin.

Out to green pastures, fresh country air, wide open spaces and the task of producing as many offspring as possible. What a life.

Slew remained active during his retirement years, passing his genes on to over a hundred winning horses including Swale, the 1984 Kentucky Derby winner. I guess it beats wintering in Florida and taking up shuffleboard.

Odd thing is that when a championship racehorse sleeps around it's a job well done, but if a pro athlete sleeps around, it's a scandal. Doesn't seem fair, does it.

I was a little bummed when I read that Seattle Slew had died (as much as one can be for a horse). I'm not bummed anymore. That horse had a good life.


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