Before he ever ran, Slew O’ Gold was destined for greatness. He was a great looking son of the incomparable Seattle Slew and his dam was Alluvial, a daughter of Buckpasser who had already produced the top runner, Coastal. Most horses with these type of looks and bloodlines seldom live up to the lofty expectations. Slew O’ Gold was an exception to the rule. Like his sire, his racing career did not begin until the Fall of his juvenile season, and included only three races. After winning a maiden race and an allowance race at Aqueduct in October, Slew o' Gold was entered in the final important two-year-old stakes of the season in New York. The Remsen Stakes proved to be too much, too soon, as the well regarded colt, owned by Equusequity Stable and trained by Sid Watters, found trouble and finished a tired and well beaten sixth. Sent to Florida, Slew O’ Gold was still a good prospect, but one that had some developing to do.
Slew o' Gold's sophomore campaign got going in Tampa Bay without much noise. He finished third as a big favorite in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and then second in the Tampa Bay Derby. He was probably best in the Tampa Bay Derby considering his trip, but he returned to New York on a three race losing streak. An impressive allowance win got him back on people’s Kentucky Derby list, but an uninspiring and slow win in one division of the Wood Memorial left many, including me, thinking he was not a major threat to wear the roses.
Slew O’ Gold went off as the 10-1 fourth choice in the 1983 Kentucky Derby, and that is exactly where he finished, fourth. It was a bit of turnaround though for the big bay colt. First he was reunited with rider Angel Cordero, who had ridden him in two of his previous wins. He would never again be ridden by another rider after the Derby, and second he actually ran a very good race after running into some trouble early and then making a sharp move to threaten early in the stretch. He was beaten only 3 ¼ lengths in America’s biggest race by the winner, Sunny’s Halo. After the hoopla of the Derby , his connections skipped the Preakness to run him in Belmont’s Peter Pan Stakes. As if a light bulb went on above his head, the talented colt suddenly put it all together and romped by 12 lengths and set a new stakes record, breaking his older brother’s mark.
Slew O’ Gold would actually lose his next three races, but you could still tell his star was rising. In the Belmont, he pressured too fast a pace and did well to finish a clear second behind the stretch running Caveat. Later that summer, I was amazed at the trip he received in Monmouth’s Haskell Stakes, as he was bottled up every step of the nine furlongs. He wanted to run, but never had any room to do so. Everyone saw the trip of horrors he got in the Haskell, so when the Travers rolled around he was made the favorite. Again he prompted a sharp pace and succumbed to a talented stretch runner in Play Fellow.
Fear not, if he was the poster boy for unfulfilled potential to this point, the Fall Championship Series at Belmont would change all that. In the Woodward, he relaxed early off the pace and had enough to hold off the top older dirt horse in the nation, Bates Motel, by a nose. It was a stirring stretch duel, and one that showed the world just how good Slew O’ Gold was. Next was the Marlboro Cup, where another Slew o' Gold and Bates Motel battle ensued. Racing well of the rail Slew o' Gold and Angel Cordero once again fended off the menacing threat of Bates Motel. Unfortunately, the solid handicap horse Highland Blade had spurted through an opening on the rail and got the best of him by a neck. Despite defeat, Slew O’ Gold once again was ultra impressive.
Bates Motel was now retired, but the Jockey Club Gold Cup still matched up a stellar cast that included, Highland Blade, John Henry, and Play Fellow. It would prove no contest as Slew O’ Gold made an early move to contest the lead, and took over the race entering the stretch. He would finish three lengths in front of Highland Blade on the wire, and in the process snatched the mantle as the best dirt horse in the world. The final time of 2:26 and 1 for the 12 furlongs proved how well he had run. The Jockey Cup Gold Cup was more than enough to secure three-year-old honors, but Slew o' Gold lost a closely contested three-way battle for Horse of the Year to winner and turf sensation, All Along, with super juvenile, Devil’s Bag, nosing him out for second.
Slew o' Gold would not return to the races for new trainer John Hertler until July. The late start to his season was not by design, but rather forced by nagging foot issues. When he did make it back, Slew O’ Gold was better than ever as an older horse. He won a Belmont allowance by more than 7 lengths in 1:34 and change. Then it was on to the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga for a virtual match race against Track Barron. In the stands that day, it was more than clear to me who was best. The final margin of victory for Slew o' Gold was only 1¾ lengths, but it looked like little more than a champion cat playing with a grade one winning mouse.
From there it was on to Belmont’s Fall Championship Series. Pre-Breeders’ Cup, the Fall series of Woodward, Marlboro, and Jockey Club Gold Cup forged countless champions. Much of my childhood was spent watching great horses strut their stuff against top competition in the Autumns of Belmont. None of these champions did it any better than Slew O’ Gold did it in 1984. The Woodward would come first. A much ballyhooed match up with five-year-old Fit to Fight was short-lived on the Woodward backstretch, and Slew O’ Gold scored a facile victory over Shifty Sheik after Cordero showed his mount that the reformed claimer had snuck through on the rail. The Marlboro Cup would follow and so would more foot problems. Bar shoes became his new shoe of choice, and his competition was left with little chance. This time it was the hotshot three-year-old Carr de Naskra who would run his heart out, only to see Slew O’ Gold running with seemingly no effort to win by 1 ¾ lengths. Now perfect in four starts at four, the best was yet to come.
Just how highly did the New York crowd regard Slew O’ Gold? I think 1-10 favoritism in the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup speaks volumes. Slew o' Gold did not disappoint. He won his second consecutive Jockey Club and swept the Fall Championship Series in the grandest of styles. I was there that day, and there was a feeling of greatness not seen since the retirement of Spectacular Bid four years earlier. Dispatching of quality older horses Hail Bold King and Bounding Basque, Slew O’ Gold coasted home in front of his adoring New York fans by nearly ten lengths. In his final local race, it was a fitting coronation for a New York horse and a son of a beloved champion. He was the first and only horse ever to sweep the Fall Championship Series at Belmont Park. It seemed Horse of the year was a foregone conclusion.
After his Jockey Club Gold Cup heroics, Slew o' Gold arrived in Hollywood as the overwhelming favorite for the biggest race on the card, of the first ever Breeders' Cup. Unfortunately, as it had for much of the year, Slew o' Gold's foot problems became a concern. Another quarter crack was discovered in the right front hoof and it became infected. There was major concern that he would not even run in the Classic. Finally, the decision was made to run equipped with protective fiberglass patches and his bar shoes, not to mention the medication bute. It would be the first time he was given the painkilling medication. Whether it was the sore feet, the Hollywood Park surface, or superlative performances by two of his competitors, or maybe a combination of all three, Slew o' Gold was in store for his first tough race as an older horse. In one of the greatest stretch contests in BC history, Slew O’ Gold found himself in the middle of a three horse war with Wild Again and Gate Dancer. In the end, the horse that had seemed invincible all season in New York, had been defeated by Wild Again.
To add insult to injury, Horse of the Year was awarded to John Henry. The race was tight and many thought in the end the award was given sentimentally to the nine-year-old gelding. One thing for sure, a less than 100% percent, Slew O’ Gold lost not only the Classic that day, but also the Horse of the Year honor.
Not long after the Classic, Slew o' Gold retired to stud at Three Chimneys Farm, where he became their first stallion. He stood at stud at Three Chimneys for the next 17 years, and was a key cog in them becoming a powerful breeding farm. In his initial season as a stallion, he sired Grade I stakes winners Awe Inspiring, Gorgeous, Golden Opinion, and Tactile. This proved to be his greatest crop. Other notable horses he sired included Dramatic Gold, Dr. Root, Passinetti, and Thirty Six Red. He was pensioned in 2002, and continued to live at Three Chimneys until his death five years later. On October 14, 2007, Slew o' Gold was euthanized due to infirmities from old age at 27 years old.
Watching Slew o' Gold run many times as a teenager, provided a strong connection for me to his great sire. Seattle Slew had many great sons and daughters, but in my opinion, none performed better than Slew O’ Gold. He never won a triple crown race, and he was defeated in the first ever Breeders’ Cup Classic, but there was still no questioning his greatness. He got better and better with age and proved the best of his generation. Slew O’ Gold was the three-year-old Champion of 1983 and the Handicap Male Champion of 1984, narrowly missing out on Horse of the Year honors in both years. He was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1992. I Remember you Slew O’ Gold.