By Carlos E. Medina
When Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977, Jean Cruguet was in the stirrups.
On Saturday night, during a charity dinner for retired horses, Cruguet was surprised with a birthday cake featuring Seattle Slew’s likeness.
It was Cruguet’s 75th birthday and he was treated to a rendition of “Happy Birthday” by the 100 or so attendees at the Retired Racehorse Training Project dinner at GoldMark Farm near Ocala.
“This is very nice. I thank everyone for thinking of me,” Cruguet said.
Cruguet reminisced about his time with Seattle Slew.
“He was a special horse. The horse was world class. He was very smart and was willing,” he said.
Seattle Slew is one of only 11 horses to have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
The last horse to complete the feat was Florida-bred Affirmed in 1978.
“Jean is a great person. He’s been through so much in his life. He’s a survivor and it’s great to do something for him,” said Robert Clark, renowned thoroughbred artist.
Cruguet was born in France and grew up in an orphanage before he started riding horses as a teenager. He started his career in France and eventually came to the United States in the 1970s.
Trainer Dominick Imperio was one of the first to give Cruguet mounts when he arrived to the U.S.
“He was a very smart rider. He got a lot of ride out of horses with his kind hands,” Imperio said. “I’ve known him 40 years. He stays at my house. When I go to Kentucky, I stay at his. He’s a great guy.”
The event was held at T. Paul Bulmahn’s home at GoldMark Farm. The founder of an offshore oil and gas development company opened the farm and training center in 2006.
“Jean Cruguet is an exceptional ambassador for this sport. He gives of himself to a lot of causes and he personally becomes involved and is a very giving person. He’s an awesome person. It’s an honor for us to have him here,” Bulmahn said.
For Cruguet, the Retired Racehorse Training Program is one of those causes he supports. He traveled from Kentucky to attend the fundraiser.
The program helps transition retired racehorses to other sports and events, including jumping, dressage, rodeo, ranching and polo.
“This is a great organization. We need to do all we can to take care of the horses after they are finished on the track,” Cruguet said.
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