There's no time like Kentucky Derby week to reminisce about the champions of years past. One of the horses most often referenced in discussions of “bests” and “greatest” is 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, who went into the Kentucky Derby having never tasted the bitterness of defeat and exited the Belmont with a story that just kept getting sweeter. Seattle Slew had a monumental following throughout the country, and every time he set foot on a track for a race or even a work, his legions of fans grew, both in numbers and in boundless admiration for their blue-collar champion, who had been purchased as a yearling for just $17,500.
Upon his retirement from racing, a lucrative and productive stallion career awaited him, and while his fan base continued to grow, so too did his progeny list. Among his list of sons and daughters were the likes of Champions Swale, A. P. Indy, Capote, Vindication, Slew O' Gold and Surfside, to name a few.
Also on that list of Seattle Slew offspring is a dark bay horse named Seattle Proud, and while he may lack the resume of his sire and siblings, he has quite an impressive fan base of his own at Unbridled Spirits Thoroughbred Retirement Ranch in Lisbon, Iowa.
Seattle Proud's early upbringing may actually have had more fanfare than his father's did. Out of a dam known for producing stakes winners, Seattle Proud was bred with high hopes and for his breeders he did not disappoint, selling for $350,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 1994. He didn't make his first start until the fall of his 3-year-old year and steadily improved during his four-race career, notching his first and only win in his final start on New Year's Day in 1997.
“He raced in California for all four of his starts and then retired to stud there,” said Unbridled Spirits President Tina Norris, who, along with her staff, cares for Seattle Proud in his retirement. “He had 57 reported foals.”
Unbridled Spirits is a unique aftercare facility that focuses on education and tourism to further its mission. Norris and her team offer horsemanship classes to the public, with an option for the students to get sponsors or do fundraising in order to pay for their class fees. The facility also offers tours to the public that focus on celebrating the backgrounds and bloodlines of the retired racehorses who call the ranch home.
It was in 2016 that Norris originally heard about Seattle Proud. One of her volunteers had seen him listed on Facebook as having been saved from being purchased for processing at public auction.
“A rescue organization out in California had purchased him in a parking lot at this auction for $250,” she said. “He was a 20-year-old stallion and needed a sanctuary-type of home to live out the rest of his days.”
Unbridled Spirits Thoroughbred Retirement Ranch is just such a place and proved to be not only the perfect place for Seattle Proud, but he turned out to be the perfect horse for them as well. The non-profit farm is home to around 25 horses and incorporates education and tourism into their business model to carry out their mission to provide a dignified retirement option to Thoroughbreds whose racing, breeding and competitive careers have come to an end.
The ranch offers horsemanship classes aimed at teaching students general horse handling to hands-on training, equine management, nutrition, routine horse care, first aid and more. They also focus heavily on tourism, inviting the public to come on regularly-scheduled tours to meet and pet their horses and learn about their bloodlines and racing history.
Seattle Proud arrived at Unbridled Spirits in October of 2016 and quickly garnered attention not only from locals but also from Thoroughbred enthusiasts throughout the region.
“Seattle Proud has brought a lot of publicity to our organization. He has the look of his famous sire and the personality to match. He comes out of his stall with a fiery attitude, staring down – almost glaring at – everyone around him,” said Norris. “Lisbon, Iowa, where we're located, is a tiny town of about 3,000 people, yet we get people coming from all over the region who come to see and meet an actual son of the great Seattle Slew. They want to be able to say they touched a piece of greatness.”
It wasn't long ago that Seattle Proud began showing neurological symptoms often associated with EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis), including both of his arytenoids becoming paralyzed, weight loss, lethargy and unsteadiness in his hind end. For a horse of any age, such symptoms are cause for serious concern but for a senior equine in his mid-20s, they could easily have been grave. He dropped down to 900 pounds and the staff was worried it was going to lose its beloved friend.
Though now in Iowa, with Seattle Proud having spent most of his life in California as a racing and breeding horse, Norris reached out to Dawn Mellon of After the Finish Line, a non-profit equine foundation aimed at supporting retired Thoroughbreds through grants and funding.
“It was thanks to a grant from Dawn and After the Finish Line that Seattle Proud is still with us,” said Norris. “They gave us a grant to pay for his arytenoidectomy, which was performed at Iowa State.”
Since the surgery, Seattle Proud has rallied. His weight is up to around 1,200 pounds and he has regained not only his strength and energy, but his cantankerous vigor. While Norris and her team know that nothing, not even a son of the mighty Seattle Slew, will last forever, they are proud to share him with his fans for as long as he remains healthy and are committed to doing right by their charge.
“I have been following Unbridled Spirits ever since [they got Seattle Proud] and they simply amaze me every day with how wonderful these retired racehorses are taken care of,” said equine welfare advocate and volunteer Tammy Decker, who recommended Seattle Proud's story be featured in Aftercare Spotlight.
As with many of the ranch's fundraising events, Seattle Proud will be one of the feature attractions at Unbridled Spirit's Derby de Mayo party, which will include live music, a “Big Hat and Bow Tie Contest,” a taco bar, cash bar, silent auction, betting pool and more.
Name: Seattle Proud
Color: Dark Bay
Sire: Seattle Slew
Dam: Confirm, by Proudest Roman
Sale History: Sold as a yearling at Keeneland September for $350,000; Sold as a stallion at Barretts January for $10,500
Race Record: 4-1-1-0
Race Earnings: $33,200
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky and was recently named the Executive Director of the Retired Racehorse Project. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She is the go-to food source for one dog, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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