Oct. 28, 1978: Spectacular Bid Wins Laurel Futurity

Bud Delp, Spectacular Bid’s trainer, was unhappy when he returned home to Maryland for the 56th Laurel Futurity on October 28. The track conditions at Laurel leading up to the race were “cuppy,” which meant that the racing surface was dry and loose, tending to break away under a horse’s hooves. This kind of surface can make a horse slip, risking injury, or it can cause him to tire as he fights through the sandy surface to gain traction.

Delp and LeRoy Jolley, General Assembly’s trainer, threatened to pull their horses from the race unless track officials did something about the conditions. “This isn’t a racetrack,” Delp said. “I don’t know what it is, but it ain’t no racetrack. And if they don’t do something about it, we’re not running. It’s as simple as that.”

Track officials listened. Days before the race, Laurel staffers scraped and firmed the track until he and Jolley were satisfied. As evidence of the improvement, Bid ran a half mile in 47 1/5 seconds.

The other change was to the finish line. Track officials erected a second finish line to account for the race’s extra sixteenth of a mile over the mile oval. Delp had jockey Ron Franklin ride several mounts that day to get accustomed to the second wire. He did not want inexperience to ruin this race.

People questioned Delp’s decision to put the young Franklin back on Bid (Jorge Velasquez had ridden Bid in his last two races). Before the race, Delp advised him, “I’m not going to tell you how to ride this horse because nobody ever knows what’s going to happen in a race. You know the horse and I don’t want you tied down by orders. But if you find yourself in a position settling into the stretch run, ride him out. Keep him driving because he loves to run, and I want these people to see how much horse he really is.”

Franklin responded with a superb ride, keeping Bid at the front of a slow pace and leaving him with enough stamina to finish strong. Bid held a half-length lead over Clever Trick after the first quarter mile and widened that lead to two lengths after a half mile.

When General Assembly made his move on the far turn, coming to within a head of Bid, Franklin waited; then, when it seemed as if General Assembly was going to catch Bid, he loosened Bid’s reins and used the whip, hitting him ten times. Bid had never been hit like that before, and he took off like a bullet, his powerful strides lengthening. The other horses seemed to stand in place.

Bid turned the race into a rout, crossing the finish line 8 1/2 lengths ahead of General Assembly and 20 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Clever Trick. He broke the track record, set by a 4-year-old in 1972, by nearly a full second. He had run his final quarter of a mile in 24 1/5 and the last sixteenth of a mile in 6 1/5 seconds—an astounding time for the end of a race, when the horses’ legs are rubbery and they are breathing heavily.

Instead, Bid came back to the barn dancing and playing, as if he had just gone out for a morning breeze. Tim the Tiger finished in last place, twenty-four lengths behind Bid.

“I got within a head at the top of the lane,” said Steve Cauthen, General Assembly’s jockey. “I thought I had him because I felt like I had a lot of horse left. But [Bid] just took off. Man, [Franklin’s] horse was running.”

Bid’s extra gear, coupled with Franklin’s vigorous use of the whip, put him in front by a significant margin. Franklin became the only apprentice rider ever to win the Laurel Futurity.

Delp had no problems with Franklin’s ride. “It was very cool. I mean cool. Letting General Assembly get that close to him without making a move. I don’t know that I could have been that cool.”

Andrew Beyer of the Washington Post saw something special when he looked at horses’ times for the Laurel Futurity in previous years and track conditions on race day in 1978. Had the last seven Laurel Futurities been run on the same track Bid had raced on, he would have had the fourth-fastest time, just behind Secretariat and two-fifths of a second off the best time set by Affirmed and Alydar just the year before. A similar analysis of the Champagne Stakes using the same methodology showed that Bid was faster than both Seattle Slew and Affirmed.

“The colt has all the necessary potential to be a Kentucky Derby winner, a Triple Crown winner,” Beyer concluded. Someone finally agreed with Delp about the horse’s potential.

October 19, 1978: Bid Grabs the Young America Stakes

Substitute jockey Jorge Velasquez was up on Spectacular Bid for the colt’s first race around two turns, the Young America Stakes at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., on the evening of October 19. Bid was the bettor’s favorite at 3 to 10 odds, but he almost blew it. Or, rather, Velasquez almost did.

A Bumpy Start

At the start, the Canadian gelding Port Ebony swerved toward the outside and ran into several horses, including Bid. The collision caused Bid to veer off course, slow down, and fall back to seventh place, boxed in behind a wall of horses coming around the first turn.

He regained his form, moving between horses in the first turn until he reached third place. Down the backstretch, he continued to make a strong move, challenging the leader, Make a Mess. But Velasquez held Bid back, allowing Make a Mess to hang around and battle for the lead. Again, Bid fought against the reins, wanting the lead for himself.

For three-quarters of a mile, the two ran as one, with Bid coming at Make a Mess multiple times until the latter tired. Then, with one furlong left, Strike Your Colors, the horse that had beaten Bid in the Tyro, inched ahead. Another horse named Instrument Landing also surged toward the leaders, and in the final 500 feet, it was a three-horse race. The crowd of 18,219 leaped to their feet as the three horses raced neck and neck.

A Photo Finish

Velasquez threw everything into his mount—using the whip liberally— as Bid tried to inch ahead in the final yards. Digging his hooves into the dirt, reaching as far as he could with each stride, and breathing heavily, he could not find that extra gear and pull away. Perhaps the battle with Make a Mess had tired him. Maybe Strike Your Colors and Instrument Landing were too fresh. It was a photo finish.

The crowd waited for the stewards to examine the photo and post the winner. The horses walked around the oval, cooling down and blowing hard after such a heated battle, as the jockeys continually checked the scoreboard.

Velasquez’s urging had worked: the finish-line photo showed Spectacular Bid winning by a neck over Strike Your Colors, who edged out Instrument Landing by a head for second. For all his troubles—being boxed in, having to go around several horses, slowing down, and going after Make a Mess numerous times—he finished the mile-and-one-sixteenth race in 1:431/5, just one second off the track record.

The Aftermath

Trainer Bud Delp was not happy with Velasquez’s performance. “Going up the backside, the colt wanted the lead real bad,” said an irritated Delp, who had wanted another runaway win in front of the New York crowd. “Velasquez reached down and took a hold on him. So the colt relaxed and stayed with the horse alongside him. That made it a hard race.” If it sounded like Delp was criticizing Velasquez instead of Bid, he was.

And with that, young Ron Franklin was back on Bid as jockey.

October 18, 1979: Bid Starts a New Streak at the Meadowlands

Bid captures Meadowlands Stakes

Bid lengthens his lead on the field in the 1979 Meadowlands Cup. Photo © Copyright Jim Raftery.

Trainer Bud Delp entered Spectacular Bid in the Meadowlands Cup during the fall of 1979. To ensure that Bid would enter, officials at the Meadowlands had sweetened the pot, raising the purse from $250,000 to $350,000.

Twenty-two other horses were nominated, including Affirmed, but Laz Barrera decided not to run him. Instead, he sent his latest sensation, Valdez, to the Meadowlands. Valdez, once considered a Triple Crown contender, had almost died from a viral infection in the spring but had recently beaten Kentucky Derby front-runner Shamgo by 2 3/4 lengths to win the Swaps Stakes in Inglewood, California. It was his third victory in a row and his fifth in six starts. Bid drew the rail for the race—not where Delp wanted him to be.

Delp was paying no attention to the race but instead, was still talking about a rematch between Bid and Affirmed. “I think we deserve another shot,” he said. “Whatever it takes to get these two horses together again, I’d like to see it happen. They could meet next month.” Barrera said, “I’d have to think about it. After tonight, it might not be necessary,” implying that Valdez might spoil the party.

Spectacular Bid Bides his time in the Meadowlands

October 18 was a cool night at the Meadowlands—a perfect night for racing. Going off as the 1 to 9 favorite, Bid got off to his usual slow start, giving the lead to Text, ridden by Angel Cordero. Text held the lead for the first quarter mile, with Valdez second. At the half-mile pole, Text and Valdez switched places, with Bid biding his time in third place.

Jockey Bill Shoemaker urged his mount on in the backstretch, and Bid, taking his time, slowly gained ground on the leaders. As they entered the far turn, Bid took off, as if he had been waiting for the right moment. He passed Valdez and Text, and although Valdez fought back, matching Bid stride for stride around the turn, Bid drew away in the homestretch, widening his lead with his precision strides.

He finished three lengths ahead of a fast-closing Smarten, who nosed out Valdez for second. He had covered the mile and a quarter in 2:01 1/5, breaking the old track record by 2/5 of a second. Another track record broken.