GREAT NEAR GREAT
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
SEATTLE SLEW SECRETARIAT