Slew Crew Finally Has Hollypark Winner
The memories of previous disappointments at Hollywood Park followed Mickey and Karen Taylor and Jim and Sally Hill into the paddock Sunday as the horses were being saddled for the second division of the Hollywood Derby.
In 1977, the Taylors and the Hills won the Triple Crown with Seattle Slew and brought him West in July for the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood. J.O. Tobin won the Swaps as Seattle Slew, at 1-5 odds, went down to the first defeat of his career.
Last year, the Taylors and the Hills were back at Hollywood with Slew o’ Gold, the 4-year-old son of Seattle Slew, who could have clinched the Horse-of-the-Year title with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Bothered by hoof problems before the race, Slew o’ Gold was caught in a stretch squeeze between the victorious Wild Again and Gate Dancer and eventually was given second place after Gate Dancer was disqualified.
“The third time’s the charm,” Mickey Taylor said Sunday as Slew the Dragon, another strapping son of Seattle Slew, made his way to the track.
A few minutes later, the Seattle Slew crew was in the winner’s circle, having finally overcome the Hollywood Park curse as Slew the Dragon won his division of the stake by five going-away lengths before 32,534 fans.
Slew the Dragon could be as overpowering a horse on grass as Seattle Slew was on dirt. Sunday’s win was the 3-year-old colt’s sixth turf win in seven starts, after a couple of unimpressive races on dirt in the first two outings of his career.
Slew the Dragon paid $3.40 as the 7-10 favorite. In the first half of the $250,000-added Hollywood Derby, favored Turkoman, running on grass for the first time, finished seventh as Charming Duke, a French-bred making his first start in the United States, pulled a $28 upset with a 3 1/2-length victory over Herat.
Although the margins for both winners made their wins look easy, none of the Slew crew--trainer John Hertler and jockey Jorge Velasquez included--was resting easy when the 12-horse field hit the far turn.
“We had been trying to get him to relax in his recent races, but I was concerned that he was too relaxed,” Velasquez said. “Another thing, he had never been this far back in a race before.”
On the rail, Slew the Dragon was in sixth place, about five lengths behind Justoneoftheboys and Relaunch a Tune, who were running 1-2. But when an opening presented itself, Slew the Dragon, with the alertness of a Sunday afternoon fullback, charged through and passed the others as though they were in suspended motion. Even though Hollywood’s turf stretch is more than 1,300 feet, when Slew the Dragon reached the top of the lane, there were no bona fide challengers behind him.
Savannah Dancer, the only filly in the field, closed willingly to take second, three-fourths of a length ahead of the third-place horse, Catane.
“Just before the stretch, I said to myself that I was going to win,” said Laffit Pincay, riding Catane. “But then I see this other horse inside of me and know that I don’t have a chance.”
Slew the Dragon ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46 2/5, two-fifths of a second faster than Charming Duke.
“At the half-mile pole, he took off on his own,” Velasquez said of Slew the Dragon. “He saw the hole and he went for it. I hit him a couple of times in the stretch, but that was just to make sure that he didn’t mess up in a $200,000 race.”
Herat, a colt who ran successfully at Hollywood last fall before returning to New York, seemed about to win the first division in wire-to-wire fashion until Charming Duke rocketed out of pack of horses halfway through the stretch.
Herat, who was 24-1, hung on for second, almost three lengths better than the filly La Koumia.
Unlike the Slew crew, Yves Saint-Martin, riding Charming Duke, went into Sunday with much confidence. Hollywood Park became Saint-Martin’s track last year, and it still is. In the first Breeders’ Cup Turf Stakes in 1984, Saint-Martin and Lashkari scored an upset win.
The 44-year-old Saint-Martin, who has been the French riding champion 15 times, would take his chances with Charming Duke anywhere. They’ve been in four races together and won all four.
By winning Sunday and collecting $171,225, Charming Duke guaranteed a profit for the six Louisiana men who bought him for $100,000 a month ago. The same group won the Hollywood Turf Sprint Championship on opening day last Wednesday with Temerity Prince.
“He broke slowly from the gate, but he’s done that before,” Saint-Martin said through an interpreter in the jockeys’ room. “He found a hole at the end of the backstretch and ran clear through the drive.”
The interpreter was Eric Saint-Martin, Yves’ 20-year-old son who has been riding in California this year. The Americanization of Eric is now complete. A few months ago, he was the one who needed the interpreter.
Horse Racing Notes
Trainer John Hertler isn’t certain whether Slew the Dragon will remain in California for the Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 8. . . . Slew the Dragon is considered a California-bred because the colt was foaled here after the mating between Seattle Slew and Gueniviere in Kentucky. . . . Charming Duke ran his last race for French trainer Jean-Pierre Dupuis. He now goes to Charlie Whittingham’s barn. . . . “I had no excuse,” said Chris McCarron, riding Turkoman for the first time. “He didn’t run his race, he was never in the race.” . . . Added trainer Gary Jones: “He had never been on grass, but I had to try it, to try and build up his value as a potential stud.