Seven other horses challenged Slew in June at the Belmont Stakes, which he won by four lengths in 2 minutes 29 ⅗ seconds — well off Secretariat’s spectacular record time of 2:24 four years earlier, but close to the times of most winners of the race.
“We knew up front that this wasn’t a track for record breaking, and this isn’t a record-breaking horse,” Mr. Turner told reporters. “He does what he has to do. If something presses him, it’s like this first race this year when he destroyed the track records. But it’s hard to find a horse to press him.”
William Hutt Turner Jr. was born on Feb. 29, 1940, in Rochester, N.Y., and grew up in Towanda and Unionville, Pa. His father worked at Eastman Kodak; his mother, Esther (Allyn) Turner, was a homemaker and bred dogs.
Mr. Turner began his horse-racing career in his late teens as a steeplechase rider for the trainer William Burling Cocks. “The falling off part isn’t too bad; it’s hitting the ground that hurts,” Mr. Turner told Sports Illustrated in 1977. “I had broken ribs and collarbones, things like that. But you can tape up a broken collarbone and ride with it.”
After becoming an assistant trainer for Mr. Cocks, Mr. Turner started training thoroughbreds in the mid-1960s. In 1969, he began working with Dust Commander and other horses for Robert E. Lehmann, a retired contractor. But sometime before Dust Commander won the 1970 Kentucky Derby, Mr. Lehmann fired Mr. Turner for not winning often enough.
Mr. Turner — whom Mr. Hill said was a skilled raconteur who “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” — got a second chance at the Derby when he took on Slew. But his association with the horse ended several months after Slew lost his first race (finishing fourth at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif.) in July 1977.
Slew’s owners and Mr. Turner called it an amicable parting, but the break was initiated by Mr. Turner’s excessive drinking.