Slew of Damascus: Tennessee's leading Thoroughbred
Tennessee is known for show horses, primarily the famed Walking Horse, and the state’s relationship with Thoroughbreds comes from sharing a border with Kentucky.
Slew of Damascus proved to be the exception, establishing himself as the best Tennessee-bred Thoroughbred of the modern era.
A chestnut gelding, Slew of Damascus did the Volunteer State proud when winning the 1994 Hollywood Gold Cup, a prestigious Grade 1 event for older horses in Southern California.
Slew of Damascus was by Slewacide, a regally bred son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew who raced only once before heading to stud in Oklahoma. As well as being a perennial leading sire in Oklahoma, Slewacide is perhaps best known as the broodmare sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, the champion three-year-old male of 2002.
Damascus Isle, a mare by Accipter, foaled Slew of Damascus at Fulmer Farm in Tennessee on April 11, 1988. The newborn hailed from a modest female family, and Slew of Damascus didn’t attract much notice when passing through the sales auction, selling for $4,500 at an Arkansas two-year-old sale in 1990.
“We thought we’d have an allowance horse,” co-owner Victor Naccarato said after winning the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Naccarato purchased Slew of Damascus with his cousins, Edris Harbeston and George Harbeston. They all lived in the state of Washington.
Slew of Damascus began his racing career in the Pacific Northwest, debuting at Yakima Meadows in the spring of his three-year-old season. The gelding quickly dropped into the claiming ranks after finishing third, earning his first win in a $25,000 maiden claimer at Longacres.
Inconsistency marked his early form. Slew of Damascus raced for a $16,000 claiming tag on multiple occasions, and connections were fortunate not to lose him. After winning three-of-13 starts, the gelding turned a corner when romping at Golden Gate Fields in March 1993.
Slew of Damascus came back three weeks later to smash the track record in the Yakima Mile H., rolling to a 7 1/4-length, wire-to-wire victory, and his fortunes were suddenly on an upward trajectory.
Craig Roberts took over training duties, and Slew of Damascus became a regular presence on the California stakes scene, shipping back and forth between northern (Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields) and southern (Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita) venues.
After posting a commendable 14-8-2-2 record in 1993, including stakes wins in Bay Meadows H. (G2), Native Diver H. (G3), and Tanforan H. (G3), Slew of Damascus opened 2014 with a convincing triumph in the William P. Kyne H. (G3) at Bay Meadows.
A minor foot injury forced him to bypass the main early-season target, the Santa Anita H. (G1), and Roberts began to focus upon the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup in early July. Slew of Damascus finished a close third in his final prep race, the Californian S. (G1) a month earlier.
A short, but stout, field of five was entered for the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup. America’s leading older horse at the time, The Wicked North, was bet down as the odds-on favorite following consecutive wins in the San Antonio S. (G2), Santa Anita H., Oaklawn H. (G1), and Californian H.
Reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Arcangues drew support as the 2-1 second choice. Fanmore, the 7-1 third choice, appeared dangerous for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. Del Mar Dennis, a two-time Grade 2 scorer earlier that season, left the starting gate as the longest shot on the board at 11-1.
Bettors overlooked Slew of Damascus at 8-1 odds. The front-running specialist needed a new jockey after Corey Nakatani opted to ride Fanmore, and Gary Stevens picked up the mount.
An eventual three-time Kentucky Derby winner and Hall of Famer, Stevens delivered a masterful ride aboard Slew of Damascus, sending him straight to a clear lead from the Gold Cup starting gate. Fanmore advanced to press the pacesetter along the backstretch, drawing alongside nearing the conclusion of the far turn, but Slew of Damascus had more in reserve for the latter stages, turning back his challenger to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
The six-year-old had trouble staying healthy after the signature win, adding only a pair of minor stakes tallies to his ledger before heading to the sidelines early in 1998.
Slew of Damascus retired with more than $1.4 million in earnings from a 48-16-9-8 record.
The Hollywood Gold Cup served as the pinnacle, and versatility was a calling card for Slew of Damascus, who included six turf events among his 12 stakes wins.
And while he wasn’t among the elites of his era, Slew of Damascus will be remembered as a hard-hitting, quality performer with the unique distinction of being the only Tennessee-bred Grade 1 winner.