Sept. 8, 1979: Bid Wins Marlboro Cup

Marlboro Cup program

When NYRA racing secretary Lenny Hale assigned weights for the 1979 Marlboro Cup, he assigned Affirmed, a 4-year-old, 133 pounds; Spectacular Bid, still only 3 years old, 124 pounds; and Coastal, 122 pounds. “I don’t see how [Affirmed’s trainer] Laz Barrera can complain about it, but he will,” Hale said.

He was right. Barrera was furious. “It’s the Wolfsons’ horse, and they can do with him what they want,” he said. “But if he were my horse I would not run him.”

The owners agreed, and the next day, Barrera withdrew Affirmed from the Marlboro Cup, citing unfair handicapping weights.

Bud Delp, Spectacular Bid’s trainer, was disappointed that Bid would not be running against the best. “Laz is smart, but it’s bad for the sport,” he said. “This would have been the Race of the Century. I’ve never seen a field of this caliber. It’s still the Race of the Decade.”

With Affirmed absent, Delp predicted that champion sprinter Star de Naskra would be his stiffest competition, and he threw a barb at General Assembly. “General Assembly won’t win it. That’s one horse I know I’m going to beat. I’ve beaten him five times. He keeps coming back for more.”

Boos for Bid at the Marlboro

The morning of the Marlboro broke hot and steamy, with an expected temperature of 84 degrees. Wearing a red Marlboro blazer, Delp was sweating and wiping his face with a handkerchief as he heard catcalls coming from the New Yorkers: “Hey! Watch out for those safety pins!” and “Got all those pins out?” Delp ignored them, focusing instead on his prized Thoroughbred. He believed no accident would befall Bid today, and the outcome would be no accident either.

Bid was his usual antsy, rank self before the race, skipping and hopping his way to the starting gate. But he went in the gate smoothly. The bell clanged, the gates sprang open, and they were off.

The gray colt started well and settled into third place, just behind front-runners Star de Naskra and General Assembly, with Coastal and Text not far behind. The pace was agonizingly slow; at the half-mile mark, jockey Bill Shoemaker had seen enough and let a notch out of Bid’s reins.

Bid responded and passed the two leaders, but Text made a move as well, and he and General Assembly held on. Text was just a neck behind Bid, and General Assembly was a neck behind Text. Delp, who had no binoculars, asked owner Harry Meyerhoff what was going on. Harry confirmed that Bid had just taken the lead, and Delp said, “He’ll win.” When the time for the half mile was posted (a snail-like 47 2/5 seconds), he boasted, “This race is history.”

As the pack rounded the turn for home, Bid extended his lead to 1 1/2 lengths, and the field was chasing him futilely. “Everybody was whipping and driving and I really hadn’t asked my horse to run,” Shoemaker said. When he did ask Bid to run, the horse responded, extending his lead down the homestretch with his effortless stride, winning by 5 lengths over General Assembly in what seemed like an exhibition.

The time was 1:46 3/5, just a second behind Secretariat’s track record. Coastal was never in contention. He tried to mimic his Belmont finish with a ride along the rail but finished third, 1 1/2  lengths behind General Assembly.


The crowd roared its approval. It was sweet revenge for Bid, who had defeated Coastal by 6 1/2 lengths at the same track where he had lost in the Belmont Stakes. “[Bid] established without a doubt his supremacy over the other members of his generation,” wrote Andrew Beyer of the Washington Post. “And today’s race certainly verified Delp’s insistence that the Belmont was not a true performance by his horse.”

Barrera felt justified in his decision. “[Spectacular Bid] showed yesterday that he should have won the Triple Crown,” he said on Sunday. “He wins the Marlboro in 1:46 3/5 with Shoemaker hardly using the whip. If Affirmed is in the race and Shoe uses the whip, Spectacular Bid goes in 1:46. Then Affirmed has to run his eyeballs out with 133 pounds to win in 1:45 and change. It is asking too much. He would be knocked out for the rest of the year.”

Without actually saying it, Barrera implied that Affirmed would have lost to Bid.

Despite Bid’s win, Harry Meyerhoff expressed his disappointment at Affirmed’s absence. “Our horse ran a great race, and we’re sorry we didn’t meet [Affirmed],” he said.

It’s here.

After three years of research, driving back and forth to Kentucky, writing, rewriting, double-checking facts, hiring editors and designers, submitting proposals, reading, re-reading, tweeting, advertising, blog posting, creating marketing materials and spending lots of money, it’s here.

Spectacular Bid: The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century is now published.

I remember the thrill when my first book, The Death and Life of Mal Evans: A Novel was published. That was harder; it took me 10 years to write, and I self-published it. This time, the great folks at the University Press of Kentucky have helped out with the publication part of it.

It was a weird feeling then, seeing your name in print, and that weird feeling has now returned. I’m thrilled once again to see it on and honored to see colleagues in my field say nice things about it. Yet there’s something so revealing about the whole thing, as if I’m baring myself to the general public. (I’m sure I’ll be having that dream where I show up to school only in my underwear.) I feel nervous, even apprehensive at times. But writing is like that. You are ripping off a bandage, opening yourself up to interpretation and – gasp! – criticism.

Granted, this won’t be a New York Times Best Seller (I know, Peter, aim high).  But I think it’s a damn fine book. It moves quickly and reads like a novel, complete with tons of quotes because I wanted the characters to tell the story – not me.

I was on the radio the other day promoting the book, and before and after the show, I wondered whether I was truly ready for this, if I could remember all the facts about Bid or whether the host would stump me with a question such as who finished second to Bid in the Hutcheson Stakes.

I chalked it up to a case of Imposter Syndrome – the feeling that everyone has figured out that you don’t deserve the accolades, that you haven’t earned being where you are. My anxiety took over, and I began to think about how much marketing I could do from my living room instead of going out and selling this thing.

I pace a lot, and my wife laughs at the nervous energy I spend daily. I send off press releases and interview requests, and I’m always thrilled and yes, nervous when I get a return email. The Imposter Syndrome creeps up, and it takes some walking around to beat it back.

But this is about Spectacular Bid – not me. He deserves the best I have to offer. I’ve done thousands of hours of research, and even though I may not remember off the top of my head who finished second to Bid in the Hutcheson Stakes, I know this horse as if he were my own. He was my hero at age 10, and he continues to be my hero.

All I have to do is let him and his team tell his story.