August 16, 1980: Bid Challenged in Haskell – or Was He?

Haskell poster

Poster advertising Bid’s presence in the Haskell Handicap

By the summer of 1980, Spectacular Bid had become a superstar. Racecourses around the country wanted the horse at their tracks to attract crowds. Monmouth Park printed posters announcing that Bid would race in the $250,000 Haskell Handicap August 16. It was as if the circus was coming to town.

The Haskell was a handicap, and trainer Bud Delp pressured the racing secretary to keep the weight down or his horse would not run. This presented a problem to officials, who wanted to have Bid at their track but also wanted to follow handicap rules and equalize the race so there would be some competition.

Delp won – sort of. Bid got 132 pounds for the Haskell, equal to his career-high weight, although Washington Post columnist Andrew Beyer said after his last romp under that weight, it should have been 135 or even 140.

It was a shrewd move; Delp and the Meyerhoffs were thinking ahead. But Bid’s weight of 132 pounds (as much as Affirmed ever carried) encouraged six other horses to enter the Haskell, and Bid was conceding 15 to 22 pounds to them.

Facing Bid for the first time was the impressive filly Glorious Song, who had won six of nine starts and earned more than $400,000 that year. The Haskell was held at Monmouth Park—the site of Bid’s first loss, the romp in the mud at the Tyro Stakes when Bid was a 2-year-old.

Starting as the 1–9 favorite, Bid came out of the gate slowly—seventh after a quarter mile—and had moved to just sixth after a half mile. Steelwood and Boyne Valley battled for the lead with The Cool Virginian third and Glorious Song fifth.

Fans grew nervous when they did not see Bid’s typical move on the backstretch. But Shoemaker, remaining patient, had his eye on the filly, and when she made her move heading into the turn, Spectacular Bid went with her, needing no encouragement from Shoemaker. He knew she was the one to beat.

Around the turn, Steelwood, Boyne Valley, and Tunerup were leading, with Glorious Song coming up between horses and Bid following her on the outside.

Glorious Song emerged from the turn as the leader, with Bid on her heels, four horses wide. When he tried to pass her, she held him off, battling with him down the stretch.

But Bid was not to be denied; it took several whips from Shoemaker to get him in front and pull away at the finish to win by one and three-quarters lengths. It had been a hard-fought race, given Bid’s recent victories, but he had once again found his extra gear and defeated a challenger.

Or had it been a hard-fought race?

Conspiracy theorists thought Delp was doing the same thing he had done in the San Fernando Stakes: make the race closer than it was to show that weight was affecting the horse, hoping that racing secretaries for the Marlboro would take it easy on him. If Bid had blown the competition away, 132 pounds would not be enough. But if he struggled . . .

In the winner’s circle, Delp pointed a finger at Monmouth racing secretary Kenny Lenox and said, “I told you. I told you that weight spread would make him go all out today.” He added, “That filly made him run. She’s a hell of a horse to be giving fifteen pounds to—the best filly in the country, if you ask me.”

And with that, the performance was over; the media had gotten the sound bite he wanted them to have.