Equine Surgeon Dr. Barrie Grant

After nearly four decades, WSU alum still practicing/teaching

Greatest Legacy: Operating on Seattle Slew

To hear Dr. Barrie Grant (’67) tell the story, working with Seattle Slew, exemplary groom Tom Wade, and the horse’s owners, Mickey and Karen Taylor, was a privilege, an honor, and in some respects just another day as the world’s top equine cervical spine specialist.

While Seattle Slew is gone, he certainly isn’t forgotten. Even today his memory still lingers around the track, as well as in veterinary circles among practitioners and biomedical researchers.

During Seattle Slew’s racing days, he won 14 times in 17 starts and earned more than $1.2 million. After retiring from racing, his stud fees ranged from $150,000 in 1979 to more than $500,000 dollars in the early to mid ’80s. His appraised value at the time was more than $120 million. Many consider his value in racing history to be priceless. On October 17, 2004, Seattle Slew had his 111th stakes winner. Slew’s Saga, a two year-old colt owned by Karen and Mickey Taylor, won the prestigious Cup and Saucer Stakes at Toronto’s Woodbine.

Arguably the greatest horse to ever grace American racing, Seattle Slew died May 7, 2002. It was 25 years to the day after he won the Kentucky Derby in 1977.

Seattle Slew—strong ties to WSU

For WSU alumni veterinarians Barrie Grant, Joe Cannon (’68), and radiologist Norm Rantanen ( ’67), Seattle Slew represented much more than a world-class athlete. Twice, the team guided by Wade’s keen observations and trusting owners diagnosed and operated on Slew’s neck. They inserted what is now called a “Seattle Slew basket” between vertebrae to stabilize the spine. The work was truly a team effort utilizing the best services and facilities in California and in Kentucky at the famed Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. On one occasion, and possibly a second time as well, the crippling spinal cord compression condition known as Wobbler Syndrome was alleviated.

“Bagby basket”

The “Bagby basket” was the brain child of George Bagby, M.D., a Spokane, Washington, orthopedic surgeon and Dr. Pamela Wagner, both a D.V.M. (’78) and an M.D. Together with Dr. Grant and others, they developed the operative procedure and the original Bagby basket.

The device looks simple enough—a short piece of one-inch pipe with holes drilled in the sides. The original design was smooth-sided and hammered into place. The Seattle Slew basket uses an innovation suggested by Dr. Bagby that incorporates aggressive, oblong threads on the outside surface of the implant.

The device is now screwed in place in an osteotomy done between the affected vertebrae. This reduces the potential for complications, especially in older horses like Slew.

Once in place, the interior of the device is packed with bone to facilitate a fusion. The stability is immediate and fusion progresses rapidly in horses. Complications are uncommon for this now hour-long procedure.

“The Taylors are very forward thinking people,” explained Dr. Grant. “When it came down to the final diagnosis and our recommendation for surgical stabilization, Mickey’s response was, ‘Tell me all about it.’” The bond of trust was solidified.

Slew’s owners honor Dr. Grant annually Each year on the anniversary of the surgeries, the ever grateful Taylors send flowers to Drs. Grant and Cannon’s San Luis Rey Equine Hospital in Bonsall, California. “When I’d heard Slew died, I felt very much like I’d lost a good friend as well as a former patient,” said Dr. Grant.

Dr. Grant’s impact on veterinary medicine has been remarkable. He’s trained more than 20 equine surgeons in the spinal techniques and has performed the procedure himself more than 260 times, often at two levels in the same horse.

Currently, about six other groups worldwide perform the procedure regularly, with four groups being the most active. “The four include our hospital, Ohio State University’s veterinary teaching hospital, a group in Belgium, and Dr. John Walmsley in England,” said Grant.

Seattle Slew leaves behind his own legacy Like his sired champions that live on, Slew also lives on in active biomedical research. The Seattle Slew Spinal Cord Research Fund at WSU’s Veterinary College supports continued research into the diagnosis and treatment of equine spinal cord disease. Funds donated by the Taylors in 1977 after Slew’s Triple Crown wins helped support the very research that years later benefited him.

Joining in this effort is world-renowned Kentucky distiller Maker’s Mark. Through their generosity and sales of commemorative bottles, the company has donated $10,000 to the fund. The Taylors have been gracious enough to sign the limited edition bottles at the Kentucky’s prestigious Keeneland Race Course. The response has been overwhelming, causing the Maker’s Mark to place a two bottle limit per person.

For more information on the research fund and how you can join WSU’s research team, contact Lynne Haley at 509-335-5021 or lhaley@vetmed.wsu.edu.

Additional highlights of Seattle Slew’s career include:

  1. Only Triple Crown Winner to be purchased at public auction.
  2. Only Undefeated Triple Crown Winner in history.
  3. Winner of the 1978 Marlboro Cup in which he defeated Affirmed, the 1978 Triple Crown Winner, by 3 lengths in the first meeting ever of Triple Crown Winners.
  4. Champion at age 2, 3, and 4 and voted Horse of the Year in 1977.
  5. Syndicated for more than $12 million.
  6. Leading Freshman Sire in 1982, Leading General Sire in 1984, Sire of Swale who won the Kentucky Derby in 1984, and Leading Broodmare Sire in 1995 and 1996.
  7. Only Triple Crown winner to have sired more than 100 stakes winners.
  8. One of America’s most prominent sire of sires.

To learn more about Seattle Slew, please visit seattleslew.com or e-mail questions@seattleslew.com.

Give to the Seattle Slew Spinal Cord Endowed Research Fund.