40 Years Ago Today: Bid Dodges a Bullet in Florida Derby

Spectacular Bid in winner's circle after Florida Derby

The Meyerhoffs and Moe Hall pose with Bid as a stunned Ron Franklin looks on.

The Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 3 seemed like any other race. Spectacular Bid was made the 1–20 favorite against a field that included Lot o’ Gold, Medaille d’Or, Musical Phantasy, Sir Ivor Again, and Brach’s Dancer.

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Triple Crown Near-Misses: Twenty Grand

Twenty Grand

Courtesy of Horse Racing’s Greatest Rivalries by the Blood-Horse

Twenty Grand is best known for his many battles on the turf with Equipoise – not his unsuccessful bid for a Triple Crown one year after Gallant Fox took the same award.

But that year was not a battle of two horses, but four (Jamestown and Merit were also outstanding horses that year). In fact, Merit cost Twenty Grand a chance at immortality.

Twenty Grand was good as a 2-year-old, but not great, winning half of his eight starts. Instead, the spotlight shone on Jamestown and Equipoise, who shared 2-year-old Horse of the Year honors in 1930.

The next year was Twenty Grand’s. He opened with a victory in the Wood Memorial and went into the Preakness (which was then run before the Kentucky Derby) as the 8-5 favorite, ahead of Equipoise and Merit.

Problems in the Preakness

Trouble found Twenty Grand from the start. Entering the clubhouse turn, a horse named Solls Gills bumped into both Twenty Grand and Equipoise, causing them to lose considerable ground as they veered toward the outside of the track. Both horses recovered, and the mile pole, almost the entire field of seven was within 3 1/2 lengths of Clock Tower, who set the pace.

But Charlie Kurtsinger, aboard Twenty Grand, found himself boxed in entering the homestretch and had to check his mount to go around horses. The decision cost him; he rallied by finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Mate. Equipoise finished a badly beaten fourth, limping off the track.

The Derby was a different story. Twenty Grand fell behind by almost 10 lengths in the early going and went wide going into the far turn, but Kurtsinger let his colt loose. Twenty Grand responded, winning by four lengths and breaking the 17-year-old track record set by Old Rosebud. Mate finished third.

Belmont Romp

In the Belmont, Jamestown, fresh off three wins in three starts as a 3-year-old, was one of only two horses to face Twenty Grand, but it was no contest. After falling behind early again, Kurtsinger urged the colt to the lead, and he ran away with the race, winning by 10 lengths over Sun Meadow. Jamestown finished last. The time was 2:29 3/5, about two seconds faster than the stakes record set by Gallant Fox a year earlier.

Following the Belmont, the romp continued. He won the Dwyer Stakes, injuring his back in the process, which may have explained his third-place finish in the Arlington Classic. After a five-week layoff, he won the Travers Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths and then won the Saratoga Cup by 10 lengths over Sun Beau.

Twenty Grand then won the Lawrence Realization by six lengths and won the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup as a 1-50 favorite. However, he struck his left leg in the race and suffered nerve damage; he was never the same afterward, winning only two of five races at 4 and 7. He was sterile at stud.

But no one can take away his three-year-old campaign, in which he won 8 of 10 races and won Horse of the Year honors. And if it weren’t for some traffic problems in the Preakness, we might have had two Triple Crown winners in a row.

March 2, 1980 – Spectacular Bid wins Santa Anita Handicap

Spectacular Bid entered the $350,000 Santa Anita Handicap, scheduled for March 2, and the racing secretary assigned him a career-high 130 pounds for the 1 1/4 mile race. Bid had never carried more than 126 pounds.

When race day arrived, it brought torrential rains, making things miserable for the 49,285 who showed up to see Bid race. It also turned the racetrack into a mud pit.

To keep the mud out of his mount’s face, Shoemaker sent Spectacular Bid close to the lead, pacing him so he would not run out of steam. Beau’s Eagle set out quickly, establishing a two-length lead going by the stands the first time. Bid was second, and Flying Paster was third.

Beau’s Eagle continued to add to his lead, making it four lengths with a half mile to go. Shoemaker asked Bid for an extra gear, and he moved on Beau’s Eagle.

Flying Paster also made a move, and as they passed the five-sixteenths pole, the three were locked in a battle for first. The Paster, on the outside, lost some ground, and Bid stuck a neck out in front of the tiring Beau’s Eagle.

When they reached the top of the stretch, Bid’s margin had extended to a full length. Shoemaker tapped him with the whip twice, and Bid responded. He accelerated in his leisurely manner, coasting to an easy win by five lengths over Flying Paster, covering the sloppy mile and a quarter in an impressive 2:00 3/5.

The Paster had carried 123 pounds, seven pounds less than Bid; it was the fourth time in a row he had finished second to Bid and his sixth straight loss to him. Not even extra weight on Bid could get Flying Paster any closer.

With the win, Bid moved past the $2-million-dollar mark in career earnings—the second horse in history to pass that milestone. He also became only the sixth horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap under such a high weight; only Seabiscuit, Thumbs Up, Mark-Ye-Well, Round Table, and Ack Ack had carried as much weight as Bid.