EQUUS - - Special Report -

the 3-year-old Triple Crown win­ner, Af­firmed, in the 1978 Marl­boro Cup, vault­ing to the lead out of the gate and win­ning by three lengths in 1:45 4/5, only two ticks off Sec­re­tar­iat’s world mark. Two weeks later he gal­loped off in the 1 ¼-mile Wood­ward, win­ning by four over Ex­celler in 2:00 min­utes flat.

Fi­nally, in the race for which he is prob­a­bly best re­mem­bered, the 1 ½mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, Slew got caught in a speed duel with Af­firmed through six fur­longs in 1:09 2/5, looked like Dead Horse Walk­ing at the top of the stretch, but sim­ply wouldn’t yield when Ex­celler tried to drive past him in the up­per stretch. Even­tu­ally Ex­celler nudged ahead. But Slew came back and was ac­tu­ally gain­ing on Ex­celler in the fi­nal yards, only to lose it by the flare of a nos­tril.

It was a gutsy, grand, mag­nif­i­cent per­for­mance, the sig­na­ture flour­ish of a great race­horse.

The 4-year-old Slew was the sec­ond great­est race­horse I ever saw---Sec­re­tar­iat re­mains sim­ply non­pareil, an orig­i­nal whom a dy­ing Hat­ton once de­scribed as “the most ca­pa­ble race­horse I have ever seen.”


The first great race­horse I ever en­coun­tered was Swaps. I was on hand in Chicago, in the sum­mer of 1956, when he won the Washington Park Mile in 1:33 2/5, his sixth track record set in a year in which he also broke four world marks, three of them at Hol­ly­wood Park. He turned for home that day af­ter six fur­longs in a sen­sa­tional 1:07 4/5, his eyes afire as he plunged through the gloam­ing, and jockey Ed­die Ar­caro had to look twice when he glanced over from Sum­mer Tan and saw that Bill Shoe­maker had Swaps’ neck bowed. “I couldn’t be­lieve it,” Ar­caro once told me. “He looked like he was run­ning easily. In 1:07 4/5! Oh, Swaps was a great race­horse!”

I saw a few oth­ers along the way. Round Ta­ble, a cham­pion of the late 1950s, was like a per­fectly tuned clock who left the gate and went tick-tock, tick-tock for a mile and a quar­ter, as at home on the dirt as on the grass. Nor is there any deny­ing the great­ness of the grand geld­ing Kelso, five-time Horse of the Year in the 1960s, or those other cham­pi­ons from that decade: Buck­passer, Damascus and Dr. Fager.

Ruf­fian was the great­est 2-year-old filly I ever saw, by far, Forego and John Henry the two great­est geld­ings. And has there ever been a 4-year-old since Tom Fool who had a year like 1979 Ken­tucky Derby win­ner Spec­tac­u­lar Bid, who went 9 for 9 in 1980 and ended the sea­son with a walkover in the Wood­ward Stakes at Bel­mont Park?

Since Spec­tac­u­lar Bid left the scene, and with the once-rich Amer­i­can Thor­ough­bred gene pool se­ri­ously drained by Ir­ish, Arab and Ja­panese


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