The state of Maryland has a rich history in thoroughbred racing and breeding. The Preakness Stakes as the second jewel of the American Triple Crown is a perfect testament to this. There have been many great champions bred and/or based from Maryland such as Native Dancer, Vagrancy, Gallorette, Cigar, and El Gran Senor. There have been famous breeding and racing outfits such as Belair Stud and Windfields Farm, as well as horses whose training was based in Maryland like Kelso, Discovery and the great grey Spectacular Bid.
Spectacular Bid was foaled on February 17, 1976 in Kentucky at Buck Pond Farm, but purchased by Marylander Harry Meyerhoff at the Keeneland September Yearling sales of 1977 for $34,000. His breeders, Mrs. William Gilmore and her daughter Madelyn Jason had hoped for $60,000 for the strapping grey colt by Bold Bidder out of Spectacular by Promised Land. Meyerhoff, who raced under the banner of his Hawksworth Farm, was ecstatic to get the colt for such a price.
Hawksworth Farm had as their trainer one Grover “Buddy” Delp, a brash and outspoken trainer of exceptional credentials. Delp had the reputation as a fine trainer but because of his confident ways, he could rub some people the wrong way. Delp at one time during Spectacular Bid’s early three year old campaign had brazenly proclaimed his horse as “the greatest horse ever to look through a bridle”. This bold statement was perceived by some journalists as being too much over the top, since it was made before The Bid’s Triple Crown races and was also only a few years after the exploits of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Forego and a year after Affirmed had won his Triple Crown. As it would turn out, Buddy Delp was not far off from his assessment.
Spectacular Bid made his racing debut on June 6, 1978 at his home track of Pimlico in Baltimore. He won the five and one-half furlong race and the made it two for two on July 22 in an allowance race of the same distance. Delp entered The Bid in the Tyro Stakes at Monmouth two weeks later where he finished fourth. This race, as it would turn out, was the only race Spectacular Bid finished out of the top three in his career.
Delaware would be the next port of call for The Bid in the Dover Stakes where he finished be second to Strike Your Colors. Delp gave his grey a little more time before bringing him to Atlantic City for the seven furlong World’s Playground Stakes, which became his first of many victories in graded stakes events.
On to Belmont for the running of the prestigious grade one Champagne Stakes at one mile, where he beat General Assembly, followed by his win in the Young America Stakes at The Meadowlands. In this G1 race The Bid avenged his defeat to Strike Your Colors. Back in Maryland for the Laurel Futurity, Spectacular Bid won the race in convincing fashion over General Assembly and Clever Trick, setting a new track record of 1:41 3/5 in the process, for his third straight grade one victory. The Bid finished the year with a demolition of the field in the grade two Heritage Stakes to seal his Eclipse Award two year old championship.
By this time, the press and Thoroughbred fans were beginning to speculate another Triple Crown winner in the steel grey colt in Hawksworth Farm’s stable. Affirmed had completed the hat trick the year before and Seattle Slew had done the same the year before that. Could there be a third Triple Crown winner in as many years? The prospects looked very bright for such a feat.
Spectacular Bid began his preparations for the Triple Crown at Gulfstream Park in the seven furlong Hutcheson Stakes, winning the race in a very fast 1:21 2/5, on February 7, 1979. This was followed two weeks later with victory in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes and then two weeks after this win with a thorough victory in the Florida Derby, all at Gulfstream Park. The two week intervals between races continued in the Flamingo Stakes at the old Hialeah Track where The Bid won yet again.
Delp gave Spectacular Bid a bit of a rest as his next, and last pre Derby prep race, would come in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. This race was only one week before the big race Delp was pointing his obviously talented charge to. The Bid won this race, his tenth win in a row, in a moderate time doing just enough to secure the victory. The stage was now set for Spectacular Bid to make his attempt at history.
The Kentucky Derby is and always has been the prime event for any trainer, jockey, owner or breeder to win. Spectacular Bid went to the starting gate as the 3/5 overwhelming choice by the 125,000 patrons attending Churchill Downs that day. He did not disappoint, beating General Assembly by a comfortable two and one-half lengths at the wire in 2:02 2/5. One down, two to go.
The Preakness Stakes was next and a return to his home track where his legion of fans and fellow Marylanders waited. At Pimlico for the second jewel to the crown, the fans made him the 1/10 favourite, the lowest odds available, against his four rivals to show up to challenge his superiority. Despite being bumped at the start, Spectacular Bid dominated the race to the delight of the Maryland faithful, winning by five and one-half lengths in a very fast time of 1:54 1/5. Two down, one to go.
Winning a Triple Crown takes a lot of the right ingredients to come together in order to be accomplished. A superior horse, no question as Spectacular Bid has already proven to be such an animal. An experienced and skillful trainer, done, as Buddy Delp did everything right up to this point. A competent jockey to steer him in the races, check, as Ronnie Franklin had been his perfect fit throughout the campaign. A good degree of luck, well here we have a problem.
On the morning of the Belmont Stakes, Buddy Delp arrived at the barn to discover his superstar three year old to be lame. Spectacular Bid had apparently picked at a bandage wrap on his leg and had pulled off the safety pin securing the wrap. The pin then became lodged in his hoof after he stepped on it, driving the pin in by an inch or more. Frantic treatment was performed and by the later part of the morning, The Bid seemed to be ok as he was walking around without any real discomfort. Delp never let on to the press or anyone else of the incident at the time.
Spectacular Bid had the lead after one and a quarter miles in the race as Franklin had aggressively run him up front. The huge crowd in attendance was primed and ready to witness another Triple Crown victory right before their eyes. But alas, it was not to be. The Bid began to tire and was passed by Coastal who went on to win, and also by Golden Act who nabbed The Bid at the wire for second place.
Immediately the post mortems of the failed Triple Crown attempt came pouring in. It was a poorly judged ride by Franklin. Spectacular bid was not a true mile and a half horse. He was not a super horse, just a mortal horse ending a good winning streak. He was not sound. He was not trained properly. All of these excuses and more were bandied about within the press and around the racing world. The fact was, Spectacular Bid was beaten in his attempt at history, and despite the reason or reasons for the loss, the record books will still show his third place finish in the Belmont Stakes. It was a very painful loss, not only for the connections, but also for his many fans.
This was also a painful loss for Spectacular Bid. He arrived back home at Pimlico the next day where his handler noticed blood coming from his hoof, the same hoof he stepped on the safety pin with. Buddy Delp took him out of training temporarily until the injury, which was not serious but was still painful, healed. Delp would also make a change in jockeys to the accomplished veteran Willie Shoemaker. Delp was of the mindset that Franklin’s inexperience had been a major reason for the Belmont loss, as well as the safety pin incident.
The new team of The Shoe and The Bid made their début in an allowance race at Delaware on August 26, 1979, winning by seventeen lengths. Two weeks later they would be back at Belmont for the grade one Marlboro Cup, the first race for Spectacular Bid against older foes. He beat old rivals General Assembly and his Belmont Stakes conqueror Coastal in the race. Next up would be a showdown with Affirmed in the one and one-half mile Jockey Club Gold Cup.
There were only two other brave horses to enter the Jockey Club Gold Cup against the big superstars Affirmed and Spectacular Bid, these being Coastal and Gallant Best. The early fractions were slow as Affirmed took the lead from Gallant Best and held off Spectacular Bid along the back stretch. Coastal made his challenge on the inside around the far turn as The Bid lost ground and dropped back to third. Shoemaker would steer his charge to go between the front two at the head of the home stretch and set down the big grey for the run to the wire. Affirmed was all out as he kept Spectacular Bid from passing him, eventually winning by three quarters of a length. Coastal was a further three lengths in arrears.
The race proved once and for all that had Spectacular Bid not stepped on the safety pin and had a more thoughtful ride in the Belmont Stakes, he would have been a Triple Crown winner. He was beaten by a Triple Crown winner in this one and a half mile race on the same Belmont track and it took every ounce of strength, courage and experience from Affirmed to do so. Coastal was a soundly beaten by The Bid.
Spectacular Bid would complete his three year old campaign with victory in the ten furlongs grade two Meadowlands Cup. His Eclipse Award as the top three year old was an obviously unanimous choice but he did not win horse of the year as Affirmed garnered that award for the second straight year. Buddy Delp then took The Bid to California to prepare for the rich races in that state, which were due to be run early in his four year old season.
The year of 1980 belonged solely to the incredible nine for nine year Spectacular Bid would author. He began his phenomenal campaign in the seven furlong Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on January 5, defeating the very good Flying Paster, followed two weeks later in the one mile and one-eighth San Fernando Stakes. The Stub Stakes, then a grade one race, was next at his favourite two week interval leading into the big cap, commonly known as the Santa Anita Handicap. The Bid won this race, his fourth in a row at Santa Anita and also the fourth in a row with the unfortunate Flying Paster finishing second.
Moving on to Hollywood Park, a win in the Mervyn Leroy Stakes two months later, set him up nicely for his start in the grade one Californian Stakes. His victory in this race in a very good time of 1:45 4/5 gave him his sixth win of the year and seventh win in a row, dating back to his final three year old race. The two week intervals were now a thing of the past, since Delp would bring The Bid to Arlington Park for the Washington Park Handicap, which turned out to be another comfortable victory.
Other than the close finish in the Strub Stakes, in which Spectacular Bid needed to set a new world record of 1:57 4/5 for ten furlongs, he had not been fully tested as a four year old. This would change with his next start in the grade one Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. Canadian super mare Glorious Song, in the midst of a very fine four year old campaign herself, would test The Bid with all she had. Shoemaker had to draw on his immense experience and on Spectacular Bid’s immense ability to win the race. The two were back in the pack until mid way down the back stretch when they hooked up to pass the six horses in front to hit the top of the stretch together and engage in an all out battle to the wire. The margin of victory was a length and a half.
This, as it turned out, would be the final racing test for Spectacular Bid in his career as he when he entered the Woodward Stakes he would have to run the race alone. No one wanted anything to do with the supreme grey any more. His domination was such that he was forced to run his last race in a walkover and retire from racing as the Eclipse Award Horse of the Year. He was syndicated for $22 million dollars and went to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky to begin his life as a breeding stallion.
Spectacular Bid was a not a huge success in his new job. He would sire forty-four stakes winners in his sire career, with his son Spectacular Love, from his first foal crop, being the only grade one stakes winner of his entire get. His initial stud fee was $150,000, which actually increased to $225,000 after his first crop came to the races, would decline steadily as his offspring were not what was expected from such a dominant horse on the track. As his popularity with breeders waned, his stud fee and book quality of mares would also decline in tandem. In 1991 he was sold and relocated to Milfer Farm in New York state. His stud fee had dropped to $15,000 by then and would eventually be a mere $3,500 during his final year. Many have written off Spectacular Bid as a failure at stud.
However it has been noticed by more than a few of the observant and knowledgeable pedigree aficionados that the name of Spectacular Bid is cropping up in some of the better runners of late, mostly through the dam side of these later day descendants of the great grey. He seemed to have a good affinity to horses with Northern Dancer blood in their pedigrees. His daughter Oil Fable out of the Northern Dancer mare Northern Fable, is the dam of Cara Rafaela, who in turn is the dam of champion three year old Bernardini.
Another daughter of Spectacular Bid with Northern Dancer blood to have an impact is Spectacular Bev, out of the Nijinsky mare Bev Bev. Spectacular Bev is the grand dam of Exchange Rate (Tom Fool Handicap), who is currently in the middle of a successful stud career at Three Chimneys in Kentucky. Another current top grandson sire from a Spectacular Bid sired broodmare is Any Given Saturday (Haskell Invitational, Dwyer Handicap), sire of many stakes winners including sprint specialist Richie’s Party Girl.
Spectacular Bid has also had some bad luck with some of his descendants. A good case in point is the champion European sprinter Mozart, who is out of the broodmare Victoria Cross by Spectacular Bid. Mozart comes from the wonderful family of La Trioenne, through Big Hurry to Searching, Admiring, and then Glowing Tribute, the dam of Victoria Cross. Mozart died at the age of six due to acute colic, but his few get that he did sire indicated him as a sire of great potential.
Sometimes the greatness of a champion race horse does come through the immediate progeny of said champion, but through later generations descending from the champion. Spectacular Bid is one such sire.
Spectacular Bid was one of the true greats in Thoroughbred history. His loss of the Triple Crown would be his only blemish in an otherwise spectacular (sorry for the pun) racing career. The safety pin incident has been chastised by some in the press, but this has come from the people who are not enamoured with Buddy Delp. The injury has been confirmed by many credible sources, so I for one believe Delp and his staff. You only have to look at his subsequent races after the injury to see that he indeed was the superior horse of his generation and most certainly one of the greatest of all time. It was bad luck. Luck being a key ingredient for Triple Crown success, which cost him.
Spectacular Bid died at Milfer Farm on June 9, 2003 of a heart attack. He was twenty-seven when he passed. He was an active stallion right up to his passing and was loved throughout his life. Many who worked with him or had come in contact with him were in complete admiration of not only his on track accomplishments, but also of his engaging and friendly personality. If you gave him his favourite treat of jelly doughnuts, you would be one of his best friends for life.
Buddy Delp was so much in awe of his trainee that he would later say that only Secretariat and Citation could consistently race with Spectacular Bid on the same level as he. Another bold and brash statement for sure, but he was absolutely proud of the horse and was never afraid to admit so. The greatest horse ever to look through a bridle was his most famous assessment.
Spectacular Bid was the pride of Maryland. He was a great champion.
(Photo courtesy of NYRA)