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Swale Wins the Belmont Stakes; a Look Back 30 Years Later

belmont belmont park champion derby horse racing kentucky kentucky derby lexington mare pimlico preakness santa anita swale thoroughbred trainer winner woody stevens

Thirty years ago this week, Swale swept the Belmont Stakes by four lengths on a 100 degree day and in the fourth-fastest time in the race's history at that. Eight days later, he was dead.

A son of Seattle Slew, Swale was trained by Woody Stephens, and was the middle horse of Stephens' amazing streak of five consecutive Belmont winners. The handsome dark bay colt carried the famed Claiborne silks of his breeder, and had given the Hancock family a long-sought Kentucky Derby win before finishing a disappointing seventh in the Preakness Stakes.

With Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. aboard, Swale crushed the Belmont field, winning in 2:27.20--2.4 seconds faster than the time recorded by his Triple Crown winning sire seven years earlier. It was Pincay's third straight win. No jockey has put together back-to-back Belmont wins since; the last three-time winner was a century prior when Jim McLaughlin did it twice (1882-84 and 1886-88).

With two-thirds of the Triple Crown under his belt and boasting a blue-blooded pedigree, Swale was estimated as a $40-million stallion prospect once his racing days were done. Stephens had decided to point Swale for a fall campaign, but fate stepped in.

On Sunday, June 17th, 1984, Swale went out in the morning for a routine gallop, and returned to the barn where he was hosed down and cooled off. Inexplicably, he reared up, and fell over dead. Initial thoughts centered on a heart issue, which was later proven to be the case. After an autopsy at New Bolton, his body was shipped back home to Kentucky, where he joined the elite stallions of years gone by in the Claiborne stallion cemetery - just the third horse after Nasrullah and Princequillo to be buried in his entirety.

Swale was posthumously awarded the Eclipse Award for 1984's Outstanding Three Year Old Male Horse. Gulfstream Park, site of his Florida Derby and Hutcheson Stakes wins, named a race in his honor, which was won in 1989 by Claiborne-born Easy Goer, who would later spoil Sunday Silence's Triple Crown by beating that horse in the Belmont Stakes.

Swale's sire would have another Belmont winner in A.P. Indy in 1992. This afternoon at Belmont, California Chrome, a great-grandson of A.P. Indy, will try to give the Seattle Slew line not only another Belmont win, but a Triple Crown.

Below is a gallery of  Swale's Triple Crown series as captured by Tony Leonard, May-June 1984.

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