Another Rout: Spectacular Bid Wins Mervyn LeRoy by Seven

Thirty-nine years ago today, Spectacular Bid received a high weight for the Mervyn LeRoy Handciap at Hollywood Park on May 18, 1980 – 132 pounds – and still destroyed the field by seven lengths en route to his sixth straight win.

Bid lay off the pace as Replant led into the clubhouse turn. Flying Paster stayed with Bid toward the back of the field and moved to the outside of Bid, who was on the rail. Pierce was right where he wanted to be, and Bid was boxed in.

Shoemaker first tried to find room outside Peregrinator, who was hugging the rail in front of Bid, but the colt moved off the rail to block any chance of Bid getting through. Shoemaker waited, and then an opening developed between Peregrinator and Flying Paster.

Shoemaker went for it. Eight lengths behind after the first quarter mile, Shoemaker urged Bid on, and the horse slipped between horses with a twenty-two-second quarter mile down the backstretch. He then had to squeeze his way between Beau’s Eagle and Replant. Replant relented, but Beau’s Eagle hung on.

The two battled neck and neck again around the far turn—Bid on the inside of Beau’s Eagle—but in the homestretch, Bid turned it up a few notches and extended his lead to win by seven lengths over Peregrinator, who closed for second place in the field of six.

The final time was 1:40 2/5, almost a full second faster than the winning time of Affirmed, who had carried only 130 pounds on the same track.

Flying Paster finished fourth; Bid had now beaten him seven times.

Triple Crown Near-Misses: Native Dancer Misses Perfection by a Head

I’m sure that when Native Dancer was at stud, he often woke up in a cold sweat after dreaming about Dark Star.

Dark Star was the only horse ever to beat Native Dancer; it just happened to be in the Kentucky Derby.

Nicknamed “The Gray Ghost,” Native Dancer won all 9 of his races as a 2-year-old in 1952, earning him Horse of the Year honors. He won the Gotham Mile and Wood Memorial leading up to the 1953 Derby, and bettors made him the odds-on favorite to win.

However, luck was not with him. Running slowly in sixth place at the start, he was fouled twice by two horses at the same time -once from the side, once in front of him – forcing jockey Eric Guerin to check him hard and go around the horses. He faded to eighth place, 10 lengths back.

Meanwhile, 25-1 long shot Dark Star was setting a slow pace at the front and keeping a 1 1/2 length lead over Correspondent. The Dancer made a move up to fourth but was still 2 1/2 lengths off the lead.

He continued inching his way up to Dark Star and was still 1 1/2 lengths behind at the eighth pole. He then made his late trademark run at Dark Star, who was tiring. But there was not enough room; Dark Star went under the wire a head in front.

Native Dancer would never lose again.

He started a new winning streak by taking the Withers by four lengths. He then exacted revenge in the Preakness, waiting patiently while Dark Star set a torrid pace. This time it was long shot Jamie K., ridden by Eddie Arcaro, who raced down the homestretch with the Dancer, and the gray colt won by a neck. Dark Star finished fifth.

The Belmont was an exact copy of the Preakness. With Dark Star sitting out the Belmont, Ram O’ War set the pace while Jamie K. and The Dancer overtook him at the quarter pole and ran as a tandem. Again, the Dancer won by a neck.

Native Dancer would go on to win four more races that year, earning him 3-year-old Horse of the Year honors. He raced only three times in 1954 because of a leg injury and was eventually retired, but those three wins were enough for him to win Horse of the Year. He retired with 21 victories and that one lone second in 22 starts.

At stud, Native Dancer was even more impressive, siring 43 stakes winners including Derby and Preakness champion Kauai King Dancer’s Image (who won the 1968 Derby but was disqualified) and Raise a Native, and was the damsire of Derby and Preakness winner Northern Dancer and champion filly Ruffian.

The Dancer captured the hearts of Americans because he was the first horse to be featured prominently on television. According to Time magazine, when he lost the Kentucky Derby, “thousands turned from their TV screens in sorrow, a few in tears.” In the Blood-Horse‘s survey of the Top 100 horses of the 20th century, he ranked seventh. He should have been higher.

Triple Crown Near-Misses: Middleground Gets No Respect

Middleground after winning the Kentucky Derby

Even though Middleground won two of the three jewels of the Triple Crown in 1950, most of the attention that year centered on Hill Prince, who was supposed to sweep the series with ease. The horse had won 6 of 7 starts at age 2 and had won the Wood Memorial.

Middleground was an afterthought, a horse with bad ankles who had finished second five times that year – three times to Hill Prince, who had dominated the early prep season. So when Middleground, an 8-1 choice in the Derby, passed a trapped Hill Prince in the homestretch and beat him by 1 1/4 lengths, everyone asked, “What happened to Hill Prince?”

The son of 1936 Derby and Preakness winner Bold Venture, Middleground, ridden by 16-year-old apprentice jockey Bill Boland, ran only 1/5 of a second slower than Whirlaway’s 2:01 1/2 record for the Derby. But instead of talking about his amazing victory, many fans pointed to Hill Prince’s jockey, Eddie Arcaro, as the cause of the favorite’s demise. Horse racing experts alleged that he had pulled up Hill Prince twice during the race, which may have cost him enough time to take the Derby.

Beaten in the Preakness

Despite his second-place finish, Hill Prince was made the bettors’ favorite again and got his revenge in the Preakness, as Arcaro turned him loose at the end of the backstretch. Middleground followed him but didn’t have the speed to catch him that day. Hill Prince went on to win by a commanding five lengths over his rival in 1:59 1/5, the fastest Preakness ever on a muddy track.

Belmont Revenge

The Belmont shaped up to be the rubber match between the two, and Hill Prince was the prohibitive favorite. Arcaro made sure that his horse was in command, coaxing Hill Prince to a 1-1/2 length advantage over Lights Up after a blistering mile in 1:37 – equaling Citation’s mark through the same distance. He continued that pace, running 10 furlongs in 2:02 1/5 – the fastest ever for a Belmont – as Middleground plodded along in fourth place.

The young jockey Boland was watching, though, and as Hill Prince began to show signs of tiredness, he and MIddleground made their move and caught Lights Up with 50 yards to go, winning the Belmont by one length. Hill Prince, spent, finished a disappointing seventh.

Middleground became only the fifth horse to capture both the Derby and the Belmont. But despite his impressive performances in the two races, Hill Prince was named Three-Year-Old Male Champion. The horse went on to capture eight stakes races that year, including the American Derby and Jerome Handicap. Middleground, meanwhile, finished 6-6-2 in 15 starts, including a baffling 10th-place finish in the Jerome Handicap.

At stud, he was not able to produce another Derby winner like his sire did. He passed along his trait for bad ankles, and he was not very fertile. He sired 101 winners but only 7 stakes winners from 130 foals.