05/10/2002 12:00AM

He knew Slew as 'the mule'

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Paul Mallory was doing yard work at his Lexington house last Tuesday when his neighbor called to tell him Seattle Slew had died.

"Why, I knew him before he was," Mallory said Friday. "I pulled him out of his mama."

In 1974, Paul Mallory managed White Horse Acres near Lexington for Ben Castleman, the man who bred Seattle Slew. In fairness, as Mallory tells it, Claiborne Farm owner Seth Hancock deserves some credit for Seattle Slew, too. Hancock convinced a reluctant Castleman to breed his mare My Charmer to Claiborne stallion Bold Reasoning, instead of to another more expensive Bold Ruler-line horse.

"Mr. Castleman had a little money and big thoughts," Mallory said. "He wanted to breed to another horse, but Seth told him there was no way he could get to him. Mr. Castleman wanted something from that bloodline, so Seth told him he had this first-year stallion that might be a good one."

There was no chance to duplicate Seattle Slew, as it happened. Bold Reasoning, the first stallion syndicated at Claiborne by Hancock and his brother, Arthur Hancock III, died in his second season at stud after a breeding shed accident.

"There were three mares that foaled the night Seattle Slew was born, and he was the first to come," recalled Mallory, now 77 and retired. "I called him 'the mule,' because his ears flopped over just like a mule's. But by the time he was a yearling, he was a good-looking horse. Some people have said he had bad legs, but that's bull. If he'd had bad legs, he wouldn't have run the way he did.

"He was calm and easy to deal with, but he was the boss. We had six weanlings the year we had him, and when I'd dump their feed in the trough he was always the first to come up, then he might let the others come eat."

When he sold Slew to Mickey and Karen Taylor for $17,500 at the 1975 Fasig-Tipton summer sale, Castleman was disappointed with the price. But business is business, and Castleman let the colt go partly because he never kept the colts he bred.

Castleman, who died in 1983, was well known around the Bluegrass, both as a racing commissioner and a businessman. From 1936 until 1972, Castleman owned the White Horse Tavern just outside Covington, Ky., close to the old Latonia track that is now Turfway Park. The tavern was a popular horsemen's hangout, and when it burned in 1972, a wealth of Kentucky racing memorabilia went up with it. Among the many photos that papered the tavern's walls was one of Donerail winning the 1913 Derby under Roscoe Goose, whom Castleman credited with getting him into the breeding business. Goose bought Castleman his first mare, Tobiki, for $1,000 in the early 1950's.

Castleman bought Seattle Slew's second dam, Fair Charmer, privately from Elizabeth Graham's Maine Chance Farm. Fair Charmer's daughter, the Poker mare My Charmer, won the Fair Grounds Oaks for him before retiring to the White Horse band.

Castleman, who was 70 in 1977, had a heart attack a month before the Derby and was forced to stay at home on the farm during Seattle Slew's Triple Crown. Mallory stayed with him, and they watched the races on TV.

"We sat there together, and when he won the Derby, we let out a big holler," Mallory said. "He had a big dinner bell, and I went outside and rang it loud. We did that for the Preakness and Belmont, too."

Fewer aborted fetuses this year

According to figures pathologist Dr. Lenn Harrison released at a Tuesday night meeting of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club, the lab received 73 aborted late-term fetuses and seven early fetuses between April 26 and May 4; pathologists attributed 55 of those abortions to MRLS. Harrison noted that between May 5 and 7, the lab received another 45 fetuses that were still under examination.

Those are much lower numbers than last year. MRLS's cause remains unidentified, but a recent study by the University of Kentucky has implicated the Eastern tent caterpillar and its excrement as potential culprits. As a result, veterinarians recommend that breeders limit their mares' exposure to the caterpillars.