Updated on 09/16/2011 7:19AM

Seattle Slew dead at 28

Angel Cordero Jr. gallops Seattle Slew at Three Chimneys Farm in 1997 on the 20th anniversary of Slew's unbeaten Triple Crown run.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - , the last living Triple Crown winner, a four-time champion, and one of racing's most successful stallions, died in his sleep at Hill 'n' Dale Farm near Lexington on Tuesday morning. He was 28 and died on the 25th anniversary of his 1977 Kentucky Derby victory.

He leaves behind a standard that will be difficult to match. He was the only undefeated Triple Crown winner. As a stallion, he was the sire of six North American champions, including top sire and Horse of the Year A. P. Indy and Kentucky Derby winner Swale, and he continues to influence the breed.

Seattle Slew had stood at Three Chimneys since 1985 but was withdrawn from stud duty on Feb. 25 because of a recurring problem with arthritic changes in his neck. He moved to Hill 'n' Dale from Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., in late March to recover from spinal surgery to correct those changes. It was the second such surgery for Seattle Slew; he had a similar procedure in April 2000, after suffering from arthritis in his neck.

Hill 'n' Dale owner John Sikura said Seattle Slew initially recovered well but began to deteriorate over the weekend.

"I got the strong sense, from being in the stall with the horse two days ago, that he was saying his good-byes to everyone," Sikura said Tuesday. "He had a resignation in his eye. I truly feel he was hanging on to bond with and share those last couple of days with the people he meant the most to."

Mickey and Karen Taylor, who campaigned Seattle Slew, and the horse's longtime groom, Tom Wade, were with the stallion when he died in his sleep, Sikura said. Carlos Arreola, a groom who assisted in the stallion's care, also was present.

Seattle Slew was buried Tuesday at Hill 'n' Dale, where a memorial is likely to be erected, Sikura said.

A $17,500 bargain

Seattle Slew, bred in Kentucky by B.S. Castleman, came into the Taylors' lives at Fasig-Tipton's 1975 July yearling sale, where they bought him for $17,500.

"He was a workmanlike horse who emerged from nowhere," Sikura said, "like the small-town boy who becomes president. He was the equine example of the American dream."

The Taylors were both 30 when they bought Slew on the advice of friend and veterinarian Dr. Jim Hill. Hill and his wife, Sally, later became the Taylors' partners with equal shares in the colt; that partnership has since dissolved acrimoniously.

"He wasn't pretty, but he was all there," Hill said Tuesday of Slew. "He had legs like telephone poles."

The Taylors' lives changed dramatically because of this plain, dark bay son of the Poker mare My Charmer. He became one of the modern era's most celebrated runners during his Triple Crown campaign, inspiring an immense following for himself and his connections, who were known as the Slew Crew. Seattle Slew also made the Taylors a fortune. As one of the world's most important stallions, he at one time commanded a $300,000 stud fee; in 1984, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum paid $3 million to acquire one share in the Slew stallion syndicate managed by the Taylors.

At stud, Slew sired 100 stakes winners, including 1992 Horse of the Year A. P. Indy; 1983 champion 3-year-old and 1984 champion older male Slew o' Gold; 2000 champion 3-year-old filly Surfside; 1984 champion 3-year-old Swale; 1986 champion 2-year-old colt Capote; 1982 champion 2-year-old filly Landaluce, and countless other Grade 1 and Group 1 winners. His runners have earned more than $75 million.

Dark, fiery, and imposing even at 2, Seattle Slew got to this task of greatness immediately upon arriving in trainer Billy Turner's barn. In his first start, on Sept. 20, 1976, Slew rushed to the lead and won by five lengths. And he kept on winning at 2, most impressively by 9 3/4 lengths in the Champagne, running a mile in 1:34.40, the fastest time since Count Fleet's in 1942. He didn't lose again until he had won the Triple Crown, nine races and nearly a year later. Along the way, he won the 1976 juvenile title.

Seattle Slew came into the 1977 Kentucky Derby with a reputation for an explosive temperament that many believed would make him ill-suited to the rigors of the Triple Crown. But careful handling by Turner, who schooled him in crowd-lined paddocks, and jockey Jean Cruguet kept the colt from boiling over. "All he wanted to do was run," Cruguet said Tuesday.

Despite a bad break from the gate, crowding on the first turn, and a killing half-mile pace of 45.80 seconds just ahead of him, Seattle Slew drew away to win the Derby by 1 3/4 lengths.

Angel Cordero Jr., who rode Blue Grass winner For the Moment to eighth, said afterwards of Seattle Slew, "You can't run with that horse and beat him."

That remark was prophetic, at least for the Preakness and Belmont, which Slew won by 1 1/2 lengths and four lengths. With the Horse of the Year title already safe, Seattle Slew came back in his final start that year and lost to J. O. Tobin in the Swaps, finishing an uncharacteristic fourth. The race resulted in a discord between Turner and the Slew Crew, who moved him to Doug Peterson.

Another great year

At 4, Seattle Slew debuted with an 8 1/4-length allowance win over a sloppy Aqueduct strip in May 1978. It was not widely noticed, considering that a new sensation named Affirmed was attracting limelight on his way to the 1978 Triple Crown.

Later that year, Cordero took over after Cruguet questioned Seattle Slew's training for the Swaps. Seattle Slew responded to the change with a win in the Marlboro Cup Handicap, beating Affirmed by three lengths in the first matchup of Triple Crown winners. In his final months at the races, Slew won the Woodward and Stuyvesant and finished second, beaten just a nose, to Exceller in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, again finishing ahead of Affirmed.

Seattle Slew retired with a career record of 17-14-2-0 and earnings of $1,208,726. Syndicated for a total value of $12 million, he began his stud career at Spendthrift Farm in Lexington. When bankruptcy rattled that operation, Slew and groom Wade moved to Three Chimneys, where Seattle Slew stood until being removed from duty in March.

Sikura said that Slew spent many of his final afternoons peacefully, being hand-grazed, walked, and bathed. He usually was in the company of the Taylors, who moved to Versailles, Ky., two years ago to be near the stallion.

"The horse was special," Sikura said. "A once-in-a-lifetime greatness."