Slew in the Breeding Shed: Passing on his Greatness

Published in the May 18 issue of The Blood-Horse
The odds of a horse becoming a champion are huge. So are the odds of a horse becoming a prominent stallion. Now, imagine the odds of a horse becoming a great champion and a great stallion. Now, take it to its maximum. Imagine the odds of a horse becoming a truly great champion and stallion. It was those odds, which Seattle Slew beat on both the racetrack and at stud in such a commanding way, that made him such a legend.

Seattle Slew didn't miss a beat going from the racetrack to stallion service. His contribution to a pedigree was varied. Varied in regard to what a breeder needed. If a breeder wanted speed, Seattle Slew was near the top of the list in providing that valuable attribute. Stamina. Same thing. Soundness. Same thing. There wasn't much Slew couldn't deliver to a pedigree.

Seattle Slew's first crop yielded champions Landaluce and Slew o' Gold; his second a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner in Swale; and a later one Horse of the Year and leading sire in A.P. Indy. Seattle Slew, Slew o' Gold, and A.P. Indy are members of the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame and scheduled for induction this year is Seattle Slew's maternal grandson Cigar. Overall, Seattle Slew has sired 102 stakes winners, including 28 grade/group I winners, and achieved as much fame with his sons at stud as with his daughters as broodmares.

Bred in Kentucky by Ben Castleman, Seattle Slew began his stallion career at Leslie Combs II's Spendthrift Farm near Lexington. Combs' son, Brownell Combs II, had arranged Seattle Slew's syndication. The deal was announced in the winter of Seattle Slew's 4-year-old season in 1978 and called for the son of Bold Reasoning to be syndicated into 40 shares. Combs, in partnership with George Layman Jr. of Washington state and Franklin Groves of Minnesota, purchased 20 shares at $300,000 each for a total of $6 million. The Taylors and Hills owned the remaining 20 shares, making the $12-million syndication price the richest at the time.

Seattle Slew arrived at Spendthrift that fall. His welcome was what you'd expect for a Triple Crown winner.

"Governor Julian Carroll was there, and we had a 'Welcome Home, Champ' banner at the farm," said John Williams, who managed Spendthrift from 1976-84.

The farm spared no expense in providing for the champ's safety. "We put in a highly sophisticated security system," Williams said. "We had a TV in his stall and his paddock, like the ones they have in banks."

Williams also came up with a plan to ensure Seattle Slew's fitness. "I thought it would be a good idea to gallop him regularly," he said about a practice that was employed until Slew was in his 20s.

As good as things looked, all was not going well. "He was just not interested in breeding," Williams said. "I called Mickey and told him we were going to try something different, and he said he had complete faith in us.

"Working with Clem Brooks, who handled Nashua and probably was the greatest stud groom of all time, we worked out a program whereby we would lead two or three mares into the breeding shed, and have Slew pick out which one he wanted.

"At times, we bred Slew to mares outside--in the snow, rain, wherever he wanted. It was never the same. That went on for two years. Even with those difficulties, he was an extremely fertile stallion, getting 90-plus percent of his mares in foal."

Slewpy was Seattle Slew's initial winner, but Landaluce was his first big winner. A 2-year-old in 1982, she shook the racing world with a clocking of 1:08 1/5 for six furlongs at Hollywood Park, then won the Hollywood Lassie Stakes (gr. II) in 1:08 flat.

"If you watch a tape of the stakes and freeze it at the quarter pole, there are four fillies lapped on her. It looked like anybody's race," said D. Wayne Lukas, who trained the filly. "After that, she was gone. Won by 21 lengths. They later named the race in her honor."

Landaluce won three more stakes before dying that fall from a bacterial infection. She was champion 2-year-old filly and just missed Horse of the Year honors.

Slew o' Gold was a champion at three and four. Trained at four by John Hertler, Slew o' Gold won the 1984 New York Fall Championship Series, consisting of the Woodward Stakes, Marlboro Cup Handicap, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, all grade I. But it was Slew o' Gold's win in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) over just two rivals at Saratoga that most impressed Hertler. "He won with so much ease he could have beaten anyone that day," the trainer said.

In 1985, Seattle Slew's stud fee shot up to $800,000, and his yearling half-brother, a colt by Nijinsky II, was sold for a record $13.1 million at the Keeneland July sale. Seattle Slew was relocated that fall to Robert Clay's Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Ky., where he stood until he was moved to John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farm near Lexington this spring. Several years after Seattle Slew's arrival at Three Chimneys, his champion son Capote began his stallion career there. Capote's offspring include champion Boston Harbor and 39 other stakes winners.

Swale was bred by the Hancock family's Claiborne Farm, the same Paris, Ky., farm where Seattle Slew was conceived. Swale won the 1984 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) but died eight days after the latter race. He was champion 3-year-old male. Seattle Slew that year led the general sire list with $5,524,911 in progeny earnings.

Swale and Slew o' Gold were registered as being bred by Claiborne, but both horses are products of a foal-sharing arrangement between Claiborne and a partnership involving the Taylors and Hills. The Hills and Taylors formed several partnerships for the purpose of racing and breeding Seattle Slew's offspring. One of the outfits, Seminole Syndicate, is the breeder of Seattle Slew's grade I winners Slew the Dragon and Slewpy and the co-breeder of grade I winner Life At the Top.

A.P. Indy won the 1992 Belmont and clinched Horse of the Year honors with a victory in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). He stands at stud at William S. Farish's Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Ky.

Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms bred and raced three of Seattle Slew's grade I winners--Flute, Honest Lady, and Sleep Easy--and all three exhibited different styles as racemares, according to trainer Bobby Frankel. "Flute was a long distance filly who was gentle like a pet," he said. "She was careful not to hurt you when you were around her.

"Honest Lady had a good turn of foot, a sprinter, but was hard to train in the beginning. Sleep Easy was a surprise. We didn't expect much from her in the beginning."

Seattle Slew's most recent champion, Surfside, also was trained by Lukas, who conditioned eight of the stallion's grade I winners. Surfside clinched her championship by way of a victory over males in the 2000 Clark Handicap (gr. II) after running second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).