Seattle Slew is the second Kentucky Derby horse to be trained by Billy Turner.
The first was Dust Commander, winner of the 1970 running. But Turner, then 29 years old, wasn't training the colt on Derby Day.
'I'd been fired ,' Turner said, 'after I'd had the horse as a 2-years-old. Mr. (Robert) Lehman was the owner, and it was the strongest stable I've ever been associated with. We had depth. The horses were well bred, but the older ones were pretty well chewed up when I got there so the farm manager went out and bought seven yearlings.'
Dust Commander was among the seven.
'He was small, but solidly built,' Turner recalled! 'His pedigree was speed-on-speed, and he could fly, but he didn't want to be hurried. It was obvious to me he would run his best races as the distances stretched out.
'Well, by July, seven of the 15 2-year-old I had in the stable had stated and won. Mr. Lehmann apparently thought if seven had started and won why, then, couldn't the other eight have run and won?
'That would have been nice, of course, if it had worked. That consideration, among others led to difference of opinion between myself and Mr. Lehmann. I lost the job. It's as simple as that. It's what makes the world go round in the racing business.'
The world continues to go round in racing so that, Saturday, in the 103d Derby, Turner is at Churchill Downs with perhaps the shortest-priced favorite in the history of the event. And, as fate would have it, the second choice in the betting probably will be a two-horse entry owned by Robert Lehmann's widow and son.
Smiley Adams will saddle Run Dusty Run for Mrs. Lehmann's Golden Chance Farm and Bob's Dusty Run for 31-years-old Robert N. Lehmann. Run Dusty Run is a son of Dust Commander. Bob's Dusty is by Bold Commander, the sire of Dust Commander, which now stands in Japan.
'Dust Commander and Seattle Slew are virtually impossible to compare," Turner said. "Slow is a horse who loves to run. When he gets on the track, he says, 'Let's get on with it.' Dust Commander, when I had him, had to be made to run.'
Dust Commander closed from ninth place to win the '70 Derby. Seattle Slow runs on the front end from the start. He will set or press the pace in this Derby.
Adams will employ Bob's Dusty as a "rabbit," hoping to force Seattle Slow into sligtly sensational early fractions so that Run Dusty Run, the stronger half of the entry, might come on and overtake a tired favorite in the stretch. For The Moment also figures to test Seattle Slow during the first mile of the mile a quarter. 'The race,' trainer LeRoy Jolley cautions, 'will not be easily won.'
Derbies rarely are easy to win, although, as Turner has observed: 'The best way to win them seems to be on the lead. Barrera said last year, when he had Bold Forbes, that nearly 35 per cent of the winners of this race go to the lead. That's encouraging.'
Seattle Slew sharpened his speed this morning with three furlongs in: 34 2/5 under exercise boy Mike Kennedy. The dark bay son of Bold Reasoning had been scheduled to work a half-mile on Thursday, intil heavy rain made the racing surface sloppy.
'You have to be flexible in the business,' Turner said today. 'I don't think anything was sacrificed by the shorter work. I simply wasn't prepared to gamble by taking him out over that track yesterday.'
Slop is likely Saturday. Rain was forecast for Saturday. An 'off' strip probably would help Seattle Slew carry his speed. Such a track condition also would help Run Dusty Run. Dusty, like Dust Commander, moves up appreciably as others drop back in the mud.
It is always dangerous to pick against the best horse, and the best horse in this Derby is Seattle Slew. He has done everything asked of him. He has license to be a great through-bred. But Turner has gambled on Slew's Derby preparation. The young trainer appears to have walked Mickey and Karen Taylor's colt up to the race when stronger preparation was necessary.
I hope I'm wrong, as I often am in Derby ooings. If Seattle Slew is forced to surrender Saturday, the racing season ends in a hurry for nonbettors.If he scores for the seventh straight time, the excitement continues.
I picked Sham to beat Secretariat, Honest Pleasure over Bold Forbes. With those credentials, it takes courage to select Run Dusty Run over Seattle Slew, but I am, if the track is sloppy or muddy. If it's fast. I'll fly with a couple of longshots in the late stretch, Sanhedrin and Nostalgia, and For The Moment a little earlier.