This was the week Seattle Slew won the Kentucky Derby, if he didn't have it won before.
Sunday, Cormorant, the No. 2 colt in the Churchill Downs calculations, came down with virus, ran a temperature of 103 degrees, and was pointed for the Preakness.
Tuesday, Run Dusty Run, ranked fourth on the Derby future's board, lost to Giboulee in an allowance race at Keeneland. Seattle Slew toyed with Giboulee in Hialeah's Flamingo last month.
Wednesday, Clev Er Tell, the third choice in the likely Louisville lineup, suffered a knee fracture while training here to oppose Seattle Slew in Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Clev Er Tell will miss the Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont and everything else of importance for 3-year-olds this year.
Cormorant possessed the speed and the determination needed to challenge Seattle Slew May 7. The Maryland-based colt has lost only once, was 3 for 3 this season, and appeared to be improving with every appearance.
Clev Er Tell captured the Louisiana and Arkansas derbies impressively. This is known in the sport as coming to the Derby through the back door, but Master Derby and No Le Hace arrived there that way and quickly gained acceptance.
Today, when entries were taken for the Wood, the names of eight little lambs were drawn to be led to the slaughter. Iron Constitution, Sanhedrin, Obliteration, Papelote, Winter Lock, Catalan, Very Distinguished and Fratello Ed formed the opposition for the 1 1/8-mile event, with Seattle Slew 1 to infinity to remain undefeated through his sixth start.
Western Wind, which might have been Slew's strongest rival, flew off instead to Kentucky to prepare for Thursday's $100,000 Blue Grass Stakes against Giboulee and Run Dusty Run.
Foolish Pleasure and Bold Forbes, the last two Derby winners, employed the Wood as a perfect sounding board for Kentucky. If Seattle Slew doesn't follow in those steps, trainer Billy Turner is going to have a lot of explaining to do. Indeed, the 36-year-old trainer is forever being asked to clarify this or that report, or rumor, concerning his colt these days.
'I've heard the reports," Turner acknowledged this morning shortly before Seattle Slew worked a giddy half mile in :47 3/5, held hard. "The rumors have him down with almost everything, including a quarter-crack (a hoof injury). If he has a quarter-crack, his trainer is unaware of it. I don't think he has even a nickle-crack."
It's good Turner hasn't lost his sense of humor. The young man is going to need a laugh or two before this Triple Crown is over. The pressures are mounting. Thus far he has held up splendidly, with a little assist from the New York Racing Association.
"It became so hectic for Seattle Slew over in the barn area, we felt we had to do something," an NYRA spokesman said today. "The horse is available to the media from 6 to 11 on Monday and Tuesday mornings."
Late Saturday afternoon, Seattle Slew will be available to the public and a national television audience. About all he has to do, in order to remain unbeaten, is to run faster for jockey Jean Cruguet than 16-year-old Steve Cauthen can ride. Cauthen, the most famous apprentice since the Sorcerer's, rides Catalan in the Wood for owner Sigmund Sommer.
Sommer also will be represented by the not-very-distinguished Very Distinguished. There are three such owners' entries in Saturday's $111,300 feature, harry Mangurian having Iron Constitution and Obliteration while Darby Dan Farm tries twice with Sanhedrin and Winter Lock.
The presence of these couplings should assure some early excitement. Their trainers are certain to sacrifice one or two of them in order to keep Seattle Slew from busting the race open early as he usually does.
Seattle Slew has yet to be tested. There is always the possibility he will crack when confronted by a quality colt possessing high early speed. Free-running thoroughbreds have been known to slowly fall apart when challenged for speed from the start.
But it takes more than there appears to be in this Wood to bring about such a result. Unless, of course, the trainer of one of the three two horse entries can arrange to have his not-too-dynamic duo run in relays of 4 1/2 furlongs each.
Otherwise, the baton is unlikely to be passed Saturday. Seattle Slew has this field over a chopping block.