Before the 1977 Kentucky Derby, the media dubbed them the Slew Crew, and adored them. Mickey Taylor, Dr. Jim Hill and their wives were attractive young people who had been blessed by fortune, and who were unabashedly enjoying the experience of owning the greatest racehorse in America.

But after Seattle Slew won that Derby and went on to sweep the Triple Crown, the owners underwent a startling transformation. Success spoiled them. Confusing their luck with genius, they become arrogant, egomaniacal. They fired Billy Turner, the likeable young trainer who had been greatly responsible for the colt's success. They took control of the horse and mismanaged him woefully.

Now they have returned to the Derby with a colt named Slew O'Gold, and they have changed again. They are neither innocents nor egomaniacs. They are professionals. If they got to the Derby in 1977 because they were lucky, they have earned their way here in 1983. Because they took a monumental gamble and won it, the Slew Crew seems ready to become one of the most important breeders and owners of thoroughbreds in America.

When Seattle Slew ended his brilliant career and went to stud, it was widely expected that he would be syndicated in 40 shares with the original owners retaining three or four. That is standard procedure, because it is too expensive and risky for any one owner to keep a major stallion and all his offspring. Even when someone as rich as the Aga Khan syndicates a stallion, he will retain only a few shares.

But the Slew Crew wanted to hold as much control of their horse as possible. "Everybody told us we were two crazy sons of guns," Mickey Taylor said. "Everybody said take the money and run. That's what the hardboots would have done. But we kept half of him, and the only reason we sold half was that he was too expensive to keep. We couldn't pay the $2.1 million insurance."

Taylor and Hill started buying mares to breed to their stallion, making special deals with the owners of top mares, forming partnerships to race Seattle Slew's offspring. The value of all their equine property could have plummeted if the stallion performed at stud as poorly as the previous Triple Crown winner, Secretariat.

Instead, the Slew Crew hit the jackpot. "Seattle Slew is off to as great a start as any stallion I've ever seen," said Bill Oppenheim, the editor of Racing Update. "In terms of his influence on the breed, he could be the next Bold Ruler."

When the first sons and daughters of Seattle Slew came into the world, Hill conceded, "They were not extremely attractive. But they were generally good-boned, good-jointed, athletic-looking types. Most of them were extremely relaxed, quiet and tractable." And when they started running, they showed how special they were.

In his first crop of horses, Seattle Slew sired Landaluce, the champion 2-year-old filly of last season. He sired Slewpy, winner of the $250,000 Young America Stakes last fall. He sired Turkey Shoot, who was considered a Kentucky Derby possibility until he was hurt this winter. And he sired Slew O'Gold.

Less precocious than his daddy, Slew O' Gold had never won a stakes race before he ran in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct April 26. But on that day he looked like a very professional racehorse as he wended his way through heavy traffic and scored a neck victory over Parfaitement. "He's a different horse now than he was in the winter," said trainer Sidney Watters. "He's going in the right direction."

If he continues to improve, he could win the Derby. But even if he doesn't, the Slew Crew won't have to mourn. It owns one of the scarcest and most valuable commodities in the world. Breeders are willing to pay $250,000 to mate a mare to Seattle Slew, but it's nearly impossible to do so because Taylor and Hill control his bloodlines so tightly. And because of this control, it seems likely that they will be making many future visits to Churchill Downs.