05/08/2002 11:00PM

Great racehorse, great sire, great loss

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - A black horse running alone at the front, his coat glinting in the sun - this is the image of Seattle Slew. When the pale horse came for the dark one on Tuesday, the sport lost an animal of mythic proportions.

This is a horse who gave to everyone, especially those fortunate enough to watch his races, and has kept on giving through his sons and daughters. A champion every year he raced, Seattle Slew also became a success at stud. He stood first at Spendthrift Farm, then Three Chimneys, and sired champions at both.

Dan Rosenberg, general manager of Three Chimneys Farm, said, "Seattle Slew not only transmitted his tremendous competitive ability to his offspring, but they can transmit it to their sons and daughters." This quality made him one of the best sires in the breed. Seattle Slew was a leading sire in every category. He was leading freshman sire, leading 2-year-old sire, leading general sire, and leading broodmare sire.

Out of his first two crops came three champions: Landaluce, Slew o' Gold, and Swale. Leslie Combs, owner of Spendthrift Farm, was the co-breeder of the stallion's first top racer, champion juvenile filly Landaluce. As manager of Spendthrift, John Williams oversaw Seattle Slew during his years at the farm. He recalled that "Slew was not a particularly perfectly conformed horse, but he had the ingredients that made a great sire."

He also had the ingredients that made a great sales sire. His stock tended to look like him, suggesting the imprint and dominance of the stallion, and a reasonable proportion raced like him.

All the offspring of Seattle Slew were dark brown or bay, excepting a few grays who inherited the color from their dams. Their coats made them dark horses like their sire, but unlike Seattle Slew, who was almost ignored and unappreciated as a yearling at the sales, Seattle Slew's offspring drew attention for their size, strength, and likeness to Slew.

Both Spendthrift and Three Chimneys consigned many good offspring by Seattle Slew to the yearling sales, and Rosenberg recalled them as being notable for "strength, lots of bone, and lots of substance. They didn't necessarily win beauty contests, but they could run, and some of them were very nice-looking individuals. An owner said to me, 'I've had a lot of Seattle Slews, and I couldn't get them all to the races, but they all tried to be racehorses.' "

Landaluce, a nearly perfect filly, came in the first crop. Williams remembered her as "a grand-looking horse, and the Master [D. Wayne Lukas] picked her out." Landaluce came early in the career of Lukas, but she was one of the great success stories of strong, growthy yearlings that he picked out of the sales and trained to a high pitch of success. Lukas had good results from the offspring of Seattle Slew, also training champions Capote and Surfside.

Landaluce was the best advertisement a young sire could have. She was fast, dramatic, and never beaten. Winner of all her five starts, Landaluce died of colitis X in late November 1982.

Champion Slew o' Gold also came from Seattle Slew's first crop, and he earned Eclipse Awards at 3 and 4, when he arguably was the best horse of the year. Landaluce, Slew o' Gold, and Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Swale were typical of the Seattle Slews' racing character, as they tended to prefer to race on or very near the lead. And there were both psychological and physical reasons for this.

Rosenberg said, "I'm a firm believer that horses are very competitive as a species, and racing is a natural expression of that innate competitiveness."

As competitors, the Slews are second to none. They love to run and tend to prosper when racing on the lead. Their muscular physiques and strong hindquarters give them the natural speed to be near the lead without undue exertion and allow them a competitive edge when they turn for home.

These qualities drew buyers and breeders to Seattle Slew's sons and daughters. They have repaid the regard of committed breeders many times over.

A.P. Indy has founded a young dynasty that is showing promise with his first top-class son, Pulpit, as a sire. Both Capote and Slew o' Gold have sired champions, and many other sons of Seattle Slew, including some with no evident racing ability, have sired very high-class animals.

Seattle Slew's daughters have played a great role, too, over the past several years. In addition to such current stars as Raging Fever, the stallion's daughters have produced champions such as Cigar, twice Horse of the Year and North America's career leader in earnings with nearly $10 million. Although a son of the flashy chestnut Palace Music, the bay Cigar was much more like the Slew tribe, scoring many of his best victories on or near the lead and having almost limitless determination. Best of all, many of Seattle Slew's fastest daughters - Surfside, Lakeway, Fleet Renee, Honest Lady, and Flute - are young, and have their producing days ahead of them.

The union of competitive fire with ruggedness and speed were the traits of Seattle Slew. Rosenberg said, "Slew was the ultimate - as a racehorse, sire, and individual. As an individual, Seattle Slew was the epitome of class, of courage. He knew exactly who he was and what he was. And he was in control at all times."

Williams noted that the "horse was smarter than anybody." But he wasn't a tyrant.

Rosenberg said, "People have the impression he was a difficult horse to handle, but that is not true. He did not like being told to do something. If you asked, he'd do it, but if you gave him an order, you were in trouble."

Seattle Slew was a high-energy horse, and like another highly geared animal, his great-great grandsire, Nasrullah, he had ideas about the natural order of things on the track and on the farm. Independent, competitive, and fast, Seattle Slew made a lasting contribution to the breed.

His long and successful stud career allowed him to leave us many impressions of himself, all different but bearing his mark. We have these to remember him by, with all the excitement of joys remembered and hopes for the future.