10/19/2007 12:00AM

Slew o' Gold got fledgling operation going

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - Slew o' Gold was euthanized on Oct. 14 at age 27. A pensioner at Three Chimneys Farm, where the bay son of Seattle Slew had spent his entire stud career, Slew o' Gold was the first champion son of his famous sire and was a member of the Triple Crown winner's fabulous first crop, which established Seattle Slew as a sire of great magnitude.

Seattle Slew's first champion in that crop was the beautiful and brilliantly fast Landaluce, but a virulent strain of colitis X killed her before the end of her first season of racing.

Landaluce died unbeaten in 1982.

That fall, Slew o' Gold began his racing career and won 2 of his 3 starts as a juvenile, although neither victory was in a stakes race.

But the big, rangy colt progressed so quickly during the winter and spring as a 3-year-old that he won a division of the Wood Memorial and started as the fifth betting choice for the Kentucky Derby, where he finished a close fourth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths. Uncommonly talented, Slew o' Gold needed more time to strengthen before coming to his very best form.

In the meantime, he won the Peter Pan Stakes, then ran second in the Belmont and the Travers.

By the time of the Woodward in the fall of 1983, the pecking order among the 3-year-olds seemed to have been established, but Slew o' Gold stood those assumptions on their ears.

He won the Woodward by a nose from the year's champion older horse, Bates Motel, and, seeming to improve from week to week, Slew o' Gold won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at1 1/2 miles in the last year before the coming of the Breeders' Cup, which revised the importance and eventually the distances of the fall championship series.

One of the horses that Slew o' Gold beat in the 1983 Jockey Club Gold Cup was perennial champion turf horse John Henry.

As Slew o' Gold continued to improve at 4, he was unbeaten except for a rough trip in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Classic. That loss probably cost Slew o' Gold the Horse of the Year award, which went to sentimental choice John Henry, who had won his second Arlington Million during a very good season but did not run in any of the Breeders' Cup races.

At the same time, Seattle Slew had been confirming himself as the leading young stallion in the world, with five-time Grade 1 winner Swale in his second crop. In 1984, Swale won both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont and was elected champion 3-year-old but had died in mid-year.

Both Slew o' Gold and Swale were bred by Claiborne Farm as part of a foal-sharing agreement between Claiborne and the Equusequity partnership of Sally and Jim Hill and Karen and Mickey Taylor. Each year, Claiborne sent two mares to Seattle Slew, and of the resulting foals, one went to Claiborne, the other to Equusequity.

This arrangement, lasting two years, produced two champions and pushed Seattle Slew into the stratosphere as a sire of eminence perhaps exceeding for a time his reputation as a racehorse.

The swell of success made Seattle Slew the hottest of hot stallions at a time when the bloodstock market was booming, and with three champions from two crops, and several other stakes winners, Seattle Slew came into high demand as a sire of stallions.

As the best surviving son of Seattle Slew, Slew o' Gold was a serious prospect for numerous stallion operations, but the big bay went to a new shooter in the Bluegrass: Three Chimneys Farm.

Retired to stud for the 1985 season, Slew o' Gold was the first stallion to stand at Three Chimneys Farm. Owner Robert Clay summed up the factors that brought Slew o' Gold to the farm by saying that "miracles do happen."

He said: "We weren't in the stallion business and had said we weren't going to get into it unless we had the opportunity to get a truly top horse. I watched Slew o' Gold run in the Travers during his 3-year-old season, and he was awe-inspiring. I didn't know Jim Hill or Mickey Taylor at the time. So I sent them a letter outlining our concept of a new kind of stallion operation.

"At the time, Spendthrift had more than 40 stallions, Gainesway had about the same number, and Claiborne had 20-odd stallions. I told them our vision was to produce a boutique stallion station with only the very best prospects."

Not long after, Clay went to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris with Bud Greeley and their families. At about 3 a.m. one night he received a phone, and "it was Mickey Taylor," Clay said.

"He said if you want this horse, we want $14.5 million for him, and we will keep six shares and breed to him," Clay recalled. "That was a lot of money, and I remember getting Bud Greeley up in the middle of the night, setting up and discussing the pros and cons of taking this big risk."

After the Arc weekend, Clay flew to New York with adviser Don Sturgill, "where we met with the owners, cut a deal, and I gave them a $20 bill" as earnest money, Clay recalled.

"Then I syndicated him for $350,000 a share in about 48 hours. I'm forever indebted to the Hills and Taylors for taking a chance on a young guy who didn't have a stallion roster."

From his first two crops, Slew o' Gold sired a half-dozen Grade 1 or Group 1 stakes winners. That record of excellence did not hold up, Clay believes, because "Slew o' Gold was a victim of that time when a commercial breeder couldn't afford to take any risks."

"He was a horse who did not get a commercial yearling, and that led to his commercial demise," he said. "He was a gawky yearling himself, and he got gawky yearlings. If you look at his best racehorses, they're mostly for homebreeders," who can let horses grow into themselves and race them appropriately.

"Once a horse becomes non-commercial, he loses the level of mares that helped to support Slew o' Gold in those first couple of books," Clay said. "He got them to start with, and that got him off to that great start."

An outstanding champion, Slew o' Gold is a continuing influence as a broodmare sire, and for Robert Clay, "He was like our first child here at the farm, and I'll never forget him."