Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 40 Days to Go!!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 40 Days to Go!!

Spectacular Bid, the horse whose trainer said was the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle, won the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. By all rights, he should have won the Triple Crown, but a safety pin would stand in his way.

He was bred at Buck Pond Farm, by Mrs. William Gilmore and daughter Madelyn Jason. The grey colt was by Bold Bidder, the sire of 1974 winner Cannonade, out of the Promised Land mare Spectacular. Spectacular Bid sold as a yearling at the Keeneland September Sale for $37,000 to Harry and Teresa Meyerhoff of Hawksworth Farm. They would send him to trainer Grover G. “Buddy” Delp for conditioning, in addition to being ridden in the beginning of his career by the teenage jockey, Ronnie Franklin.

At 2 Spectacular Bid was a late developer, not winning his first stakes until mid-September. The grey would go on to win 7 of his 9 starts, 5 of those stakes victories including the Champagne and Laurel Futurity, earning $384,484. His first win was only 2/5 of a second off of the track record for 5 ½ furlongs, then 3 weeks later he equaled a track record of 1:04.2. In the Laurel Futurity, he would break the track record, running the mile and 1/16 in 1:41.6. His season would earn “The Bid” the Eclipse Award for 2YO Male.

Beginning his sophomore endeavor, the grey would win 5 stakes races prior to the Kentucky Derby; three wins at Gulfstream, the Flamingo at Hialeah, as well as the Blue Grass at Keeneland. Spectacular Bid won the Kentucky Derby over 9 other contestants by 2 ¾ lengths. The duo of Spectacular Bid and Ronnie Franklin never faced a serious challenge while beating Secretariat’s son, General Assembly. The colt would be the last 2YO Champion to win until 2007 when Street Sense was victorious. The pair would take the Preakness by 5 ½ lengths, running in a time of 1:54.2, which was faster than Seattle Slew and Affirmed. It was considered the record until the time for Secretariat’s 1973 run was made official.

The morning of the Belmont would cause his downfall in the third leg of the Triple Crown. At some point a leg wrap became undone, and Spectacular Bid managed to step on a safety pin. When it was found that morning, Delp was unsure as to whether or not to tell Franklin. The decision was made, Franklin was made aware, which could have been the deciding factor. Not riding the Bid as he usually did, the jockey instead pushed him to the lead early after chasing a long shot which tired the horse out. Though he tried to fight on, the early part of the race caught up, causing him to be caught before the wire, finishing third. The safety pin injury may have bothered him some during the race, as he didn’t switch leads. The hard luck colt would wind up with a threatening infection in the hoof, leading to it having to be drilled to drain the infection. The injury would cause him to be out of racing for 2 months while healing.

When he returned to the track, Bill Shoemaker would ride Spectacular Bid in most of his remaining races. His first race back was in August, an allowance race that he won by 17 lengths while setting a new track record for a mile and 1/16, running it in 1:41.6. Spectacular Bid would win the Marlboro Cup, then finish second to Affirmed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a race where he would mount 4 different challenges trying to pass him. It was the last race that he would lose. His final race of the year would see The Bid win the Meadowlands Cup in record time, 2:01.2 for the mile and a quarter. Becoming the first American Thoroughbred to win over $1 million as a three-year-old he finished the year earning $1,279,333. Bid was the second horse to win that in a single season, as Affirmed gained the honor when he beat the grey in the Gold Cup. His record setting year netted him the title of 3YO Champion Male.

As a 4YO, Spectacular Bid would win all 9 of his races, earning $1,117,790, while setting 5 track records. In the Gr. I Strub Stakes, he would run the fastest mile and quarter on dirt, setting the world record at 1:57.8, which still stands today. His final race was a walkover; with only himself to beat, he would still run the mile and a quarter in 2:02 2/5, equaling his time in the Derby. He was to race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, however an ankle injury he received prior to the race led to his retirement at Claiborne. He was syndicated for a record $22 million. Overall, he would carry 130 pounds or more in 5 of his races, set a world record plus 7 track records, all while winning 26 of his 30 races. His 4YO campaign would earn him Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year in 1980. He would be inducted into the Hall Of Fame. At Claiborne, Spectacular Bid would become friends with Secretariat, with the two being seen racing each other down the fence line. In 1991 he was moved to Milfer Farm in New York where he would live the remainder of his days, passing due to a heart attack in 2003. The Bid would be buried at the farm.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum