Underestimated from the beginning, few would have believed that Seattle Slew, described by his breading manager as “ugly,” with big floppy ears, and a domineering, stubborn personality, would become one of the most famous horses in racing history. Today, few know this horse was owned by a Chi Omega Sister.
Foaled in 1974 in Kentucky, Seattle Slew was rejected from the prestigious Keeneland Yearling Sale. Instead, he went to the more open Fasig-Tipton auction where he was sold for $17,500, what was considered a bargain, to two young couples from Washington State, Mickey and Karen Taylor and Jim and Sally Hill, an Alpha Beta/Auburn alumna. The four, who would later become known to some as “The Slew Crew,” claimed this underrated foal as their own in 1975 when Dr. Hill, a veterinarian, picked out the colt.
Sally Hill once talked about Slew’s popularity by saying, “The magic thing is that he has become the people’s horse. Maybe that’s because he was purchased at a reasonable figure. We didn’t pay a fortune for him. We didn’t breed him out of our $2 million syndicated stud. We just went and bought him at public auction. I guess people relate to that.”
The Triple Crown
Seattle Slew was underestimated from the beginning. Some said he looked like a mule, and he was so awkward that his first nickname was Baby Huey.
As he matured, Slew developed his humble beginnings into a career that earned its place in the history books of horse racing. His awkward composure quickly developed into a machine of a horse, who would win 14 of his 17 races and earn more than $1.2 million.
Slew won the Triple Crown without ever having lost a race. When Seattle Slew ran in 1977, having captured the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, he was 9-for-9. He is one of two horses to have won the Triple Crown while having been undefeated in any previous race; the second was Justify, who won the Triple Crown in 2018 and who is descended from Seattle Slew.
The horse who had been labeled as a domineering colt kept that reputation with all who knew him, except when it came to a few occasions, some of the most notable being with Sally’s son Jaimie.
“I was looking around everywhere,” Sally has said of her then four-year-old son. “I finally asked somebody, ‘Have you seen Jamie?’ They said they thought they saw him near Slew’s stall. And there he was curled up and asleep in the straw in the corner of the stall and Slew was there nuzzling him.”
Slew’s reputation for doing what he wanted, when he wanted even rang true when it came to what kind of music he liked to listen to in the barn.
“He didn’t like it if somebody changed the station,” Sally says. “He would put his head out and get mad and mess with the radio. He liked country and western.”
And when it came time to train, he wasn’t on anyone’s schedule but his own.
“Every morning he would go to the track, he had to pick the way to the track,” Sally says. “Some days he’d stop at a barn that had a goat or a chicken and he would wait for the goat to come out. Then, he would just look at him. He would watch airplanes bound for Kennedy. But the minute he hit the track, he was a complete professional.”
In the Kentucky Derby, Slew outran For The Moment down the stretch. Afterward, the competitor’s jockey shared something that stuck with Billy Turner, Slew’s trainer. Midway through the race, Slew’s head bobbed up beside the competitor jockey’s boot. At that moment, the jockey said, “I looked around and saw that Slew wasn’t looking at my horse – he was looking at me.”
That gave Turner goosebumps.
“It scared me,” Turner said. “I worried Slew might grab a rider by the leg and pull him off his horse. He was fiercely competitive, an absolute dominant horse and just ruthless to run with. Others were horrified of him.”
Two weeks later, Slew took the Preakness and “Slewmania” swept the country. Secretariat had won the Triple Crown in 1973, ending a 25-year drought, and this momentum had many wondering if it could be done again so soon.
Next, Slew won the Belmont by four lengths, the tenth of only 13 horses to capture the Triple Crown.
Jean Cruguet, Slew’s jockey, is not only infamous for riding a Triple Crown winner, but also for his victory salute while crossing the finish line of the Belmont Stakes. Cruguet stood up in the stirrups and gave the crowd a victory salute by waving his whip in the air. This move has been mimicked by many jockeys since that incredible moment.
Seattle Slew’s Legacy
Seattle Slew died on May 7, 2002, on the 25th anniversary of his Kentucky Derby win. He was buried at Hill ‘n’ Dale, the highest honor for a winning racehorse, with his favorite blanket and a bag of peppermints. Three Chimneys Farm erected a statue of Seattle Slew near the stallion barn in his honor.
Honored as the 1977 Horse of the Year, he was also a champion at ages two, three, and four. He was in the Blood-Horse magazine List of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century, an Eclipse Award winner in each of his three years on the racetrack, was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1981, A British publication, A Century of Champions, ranked him fourth among North American racehorses, and in 2002, ESPN telecast a “SportsCentury” on Seattle Slew.
As an Auburn student, Sally served as vice president of Chi Omega and vice president and president of the Women’s Student Government Association. This involvement, along with other leadership and volunteer positions, earned her the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award during her senior year.
After graduation, she accepted a position as personnel director for National Vulcanized Fiber and worked 16 years for Products Sales Associates, progressing through the ranks to vice president prior to retiring.
Sally is the only woman to have served as president of Omicron Delta Kappa honor society and is among the first women to be in the organization.
A life member of the Auburn Alumni Association, Sally has served on the Auburn Alumni Association board and the Auburn University College of Business Dean’s Advisory Council, and now serves on the College of Human Sciences International Board of Advisors. She is a former president of the College of Human Sciences’ Women’s Philanthropy Board and served as the first female president of the Auburn University Foundation from 2004 through 2006. In 2013 Sally was awarded the Auburn Alumni Association’s Lifetime Achievement award.
Sally and her husband Jim currently reside in Coconut Grove, Florida.
References: latimes.com, cbsports.com