"They can run a jet at him and it isn't going to make any difference. Going down the backstretch, Seattle Slew will be on the lead, because there isn't a horse in America that can stay with him. Like Billy (trainer Billy Turner) says, when he gets into his natural stride he's something to behold . . . He'll accelerate at the far turn and if Jean (Cruguet) wants to ask him, he'll keep on going."
That was the script for winning the 103d Kentucky Derby, as recited Friday night by his owner, Mickey Taylor. And today, Seattle Slew took him almost literally, accelerated at the far turn, put his most persistent challenger away in the stretch, and is now the only thoroughbred among the 28,000 foaled in 1974 who is still eligible to win the Triple Crown.
"Seattle Slew is off a slow start," the track announcer said excitedly, when the gates opened for the Derby contest, and indeed there was some trouble for the 1-to-2 favorite at the outset. He had to weave his way through a bit of a crowd, but halfway to the first turn he was challenging For The Moment for the lead, and got it.
For the others, it was end of race.
For The Moment , the third choice, was persistent and ran head and head with Slew down the backstretch, even showing in front for a spell. But coming out of the last turn, Slew accelerated and bounced three lengths to the fore. For The Moment paid for his daring in the first mile and finished a terribly tuckered eighth.
Cruguet hand rode Seattle Slew to a length margin over Run Dusty Run, with Sanhedrin a neck behind in third place.
Slew felt Jockey Cruguet's whip, "Seven times I hit him when we straightened out for home," the French jockey said. "Mr. Taylor said to take no chances in the Derby."
Slew sweated out the prerace rituals more than he did the race itself. He was nervous and washy during the post parade, prancing and hard to control for Cindy Hostetler, the girl on his lead pony. "And he was so long in the starting gate he got a temper," said Cruguet. "Then I had to work to get him clear from Sir Sir and Bob's Dusty when they leaned on us at the start."
Ironically, trainer Bill Turner never saw his colt win today's Derby in the flesh. "I wanted to watch his actions in the post parade and I was down on the rail at the start with no time to get to my box." The favorite's trainer saw the race on the first television set he spotted, under the stands with the $10 general admission customers.
"Worse than that, I got confused by the colors and thought Slew was running fourth instead of going for the lead around the first turn," Turner said.
Turner said that Derby conditions were difficult for Seattle Slew. He was bothered by the crowds, the close quarters in the paddock, and the loud band that struck up "My Old Kentucky Home" when the field appeared on the track.
"He's inclined to be nervous, and maybe I should have done what Ivan Parke did for his colt in a previous Derby," said Taylor. "Parke got a tape of My Old Kentucky Home, played it as loud as he could and drove everybody out of the barn area, but his colt got used to the song."
Owner Taylor said he was pleased with Seattle Slew, but "I expected a smoother trip," He said he wasn't pleased with Eddie Arcaro and Howard Cosell, who seemed to bad-mouth Seattle Slew in their ABC-TV program after the race. Cosell questioned Slew's stamina, it was reported, and virtually wrote him off as a Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown winner.
"Arcaro sounds like he's still ticked off about losing a Derby on Bold Ruler," Taylor said. "I guess he'd better get back on a horse. I don't know where to put Uncle Howard."
The 12,000 that Churchill Downs always claims as Derby Day attendance is measured mostly by the varying size of the infield throng. Today, it was one of the big ones. For their $10 admission ticket, infield fans had their choice of standing on their feet during the races or hunkering down on the grass. They get a better view of each other than they do of the Derby.
In the dress and demeanor of the young people in the infield, social progress was noted. Only a few years ago it was long hair and dirty necks in the majority and streakers sprinting all over the place. Today, they were more civilized, decently groomed, some even looking like job-seekers. Today, volleyball games were big.
The Derby Day vendors were vending everything: Derby T-shirts, Derby license plates and even thin, plastic Derby Day raincoats at $3 a pop, because rain clouds were gathering early in the day. "What if it doesn't rain," asked a prospective buyer. "It doesn't ear, and you don't have to feed it. Save it for next year," he was told.