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As the only living Triple Crown-winning trainer, Turner is also the one man who was able to do what 10 other trainers whose charges have since won both the Derby and Preakness could not
“Turner didn't have to embellish when it came to Seattle Slew. "From the time we first breezed him, I wasn't thinking about the Kentucky Derby," Turner said. "I was thinking about the Triple Crown." Kennedy, who emigrated from his native Ireland to the U.S. in 1963, was only mildly whelmed by the 2-year-old colt Turner introduced as "Baby Huey" in February of 1976. Turner's first wife, Paula, who saddle broke Seattle Slew at Andor Farm in Monkton, Md., had taken to calling the unremarkable bay colt "Baby Huey," because of his comically large head, ample hindquarters and short, fuzzy tail that reminded her of the cartoon duck. "He was just another horse that came off the farm," Kennedy, 73, said of the Bold Reasoning colt, who had been purchased for $17,500 at the 1975 Fasig-Tipton yearling sale by two young couples, Karen and Mickey Taylor from White Swan, Wash., and their friends, Jim (a New York racetrack veterinarian) and Sally Hill. "But then we breezed him. He had so much raw talent, you can't even imagine. And did he have a shoulder on him. It was like sitting on a brahma bull. When he would get excited they would start to expand, swell up. It was just amazing." After Slew's dazzling performance in the Champagne, Turner elected to put him on the shelf and look ahead to the spring classics rather than ship him to Maryland for the $140,000 Laurel Futurity, then the most lucrative juvenile stakes in the nation. "I had a lot of good old horsemen telling me it was not in a 2-year-old's best interest to run them longer than a mile," Turner said of the decision [shared by all in the Tayhill group] to bypass the 1 1/16-mile race. In hindsight, the four-and-a-half-month layoff (from the Champagne to Seattle Slew's 1977 debut in a March 9 allowance race at Hialeah) may have been the most prudent decision Turner made regarding the colt. Interestingly, both Secretariat and Affirmed were also rested for four months from the end of their respective 2-year-old seasons to the launch of their sophomore campaigns (I'll Have Another was laid up for five months after a sixth-place effort in the 2011 Hopeful Stakes, but forced the issue after exiting the race with shin problems). The dawn of the Breeders' Cup in 1984, and its 1 1/8-mile Juvenile race that now carries a purse of $2 million, has made the decision to pull back even more difficult for owners and trainers of precocious 2-year-olds. "If you're not training the hell out of these young horses, it gives them a chance to grow up," Turner said. "If they grow, and you already have a good 2-year-old, you're going to have a better 3-year-old. If they don't grow, you'll have more of the same, and the horses you were beating at 2 might catch up with you." Incredibly, from his first published work at 2 through the Triple Crown races, Seattle Slew posted only 19 official works. "We never had to drill him," Turner said. "We knew what we had. We did a lot of jogging and a lot of walking. He'd be out of his stall for two hours or more every morning, walking through the barn area or doing something on the track. He kept himself fit." Seattle Slew was administered phenylbutazone (Bute), an approved anti-inflammatory, only once during his 17-race career. Turner thought it prudent to allow the colt to run on Bute for the Preakness Stakes because the Pimlico track was exceptionally hard that week. In preparation for the Belmont, Turner made a decision that likely would have backfired with another horse: He gave Seattle Slew two 1-mile drills on successive Saturdays. "Why did I do that? I felt he needed it to go the mile and a half," Turner said. "Not because he wasn't fit because I didn't want him to go the first three-quarters in 1:09. We had to take something out of him to make him last. He was just that good." After the Belmont, Turner says he expected Slew to be given a well-deserved break. His farrier, Dave Pearce, was pulling Slew's shoes when Turner got the call from Mickey Taylor telling him the colt would be heading to California to run in the inaugural Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park, just three weeks after the Belmont. Seattle Slew suffered his first career defeat in the Swaps, finishing a well-beaten fourth to J.O Tobin, a horse who had run fifth in the Preakness. "After the Belmont, the old horse came out of the race physically, he was sound," Turner said. "But he was mentally exhausted. The thing that made him different from all the rest was that killer instinct. He just had utter disdain for other horses." Residual resentment over the Swaps debacle, as well as Turner's escalating drinking problem, resulted in Seattle Slew being moved to the barn of Doug Peterson, a 26-year-old assistant to Bob Dunham, in November of 1977. Seattle Slew retired in 1978 with a record of 14 wins from 17 starts and $1.2 million in earnings. He was a champion all three years he raced, and Horse of the Year in 1977. Turner's marriage to Paula fell apart, as did his second. Sober since 1990, Turner and his current wife, Patti -- a former jockey and exercise rider who broke 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero -- live in Malverne, N.Y., only 10 minutes from Belmont.
The thing that made him different from all the rest was that killer instinct. He just had utter disdain for other horses.” --Trainer Billy Turner on Seattle Slew