August 26, 1979: Spectacular Bid is Back

Horse's hoofSix weeks after the safety pin incident at Belmont, Spectacular Bid was still favoring his left foot. Trainer Bud Delp had his farrier, Jack Reynolds, replace Bid’s regular horseshoe with one that had a rubber cushion and felt pads as well as extra protection from an aluminum extension. Every day for a month, they packed cotton and iodine under the cushion to keep the wound from becoming reinfected.

Growing Pains

But his condition grew from bad to worse. While he was recuperating from his left injury, he also developed a corn in his right hoof, probably caused by favoring it in the Belmont and by subsequent walks he took while he was lame.

Delp brought Bid along slowly, steadily upping the speed of his workouts while the horse continued to rehabilitate. On July 23, the horse ran three furlongs in 35 4/5 seconds. Delp and Charlie Bettis took the protective horseshoe off the horse on July 25; on July 31, he ran a half mile in 49 seconds. He breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 on August 4 under conditions so foggy that the exercise boy had to shout when he got to the five-furlong pole.

Then Bid turned it on. He worked six furlongs in 1:13 2/5 on August 11, four furlongs in 48 seconds flat on August 13, and seven furlongs in 1:24 4/5 on August 14. Although he would not be ready for the Travers Stakes August 18, Delp started looking for a good race to start his comeback.

On August 21, Bid covered five furlongs in an amazing 58 2/5 seconds. That was it. Delp pronounced the horse 110% healthy. He entered Bid in a 1 1/16 allowance race in Dover on August 26, ending an almost three-month absence from the track. It would also be jockey Bill Shoemaker’s first ride on the horse.

Race Day

When race day arrived, Delp helped Shoemaker up on Bid in the paddock, and Shoemaker noticed that the horse seemed crabby, refusing to let Delp and groom Mo Hall put the saddle on him. Once on Bid’s back, Shoemaker couldn’t get Bid to do anything he asked—it was as if the horse had a mind of his own and would not let anyone change it. Shoemaker thought to himself, “Bill, what have you got yourself into? This horse has had it.”

A few moments later, Bid broke from the starting gate, and Shoemaker felt the rush as Bid broke well and strained against the reins, the jockey pulling back with all his might. “Jesus, Bill, hang on! You’re in for a ride now,” he said to himself.

Carrying 122 pounds, Bid settled into third place heading into the clubhouse turn. He stalked the leader, Pity the Sea, whose 15-pound advantage over Bid had allowed him to open a three-length lead on the field. But Bid bided his time and made his move on the backstretch.

Entering the homestretch he passed Pity the Sea effortlessly and did not look back, accelerating in his own machine-like style, putting away all challengers and winning by 17 lengths. All Shoemaker had to do was sit and wave his whip occasionally to keep Bid’s mind on the race. Armada Strike, another Delp-trained colt, finished second, and Not So Proud was third. He had traveled the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 3/5, setting a new track record for the distance.

Bid was back.

One of the Greats?

“He did it on his own,” Shoemaker said. “All I wanted to do was get a good race into him for the Marlboro [Cup]. I didn’t start riding him until the stretch and by then he was too far ahead to matter.”

On his first ride on Spectacular Bid, Shoemaker was already comparing him to the best ever. The jockey who had ridden Kelso, Swaps, Buckpasser, Damascus, and Forego said, “Spectacular Bid is as great as any horse that I’ve ever ridden, and I’ve ridden some of the great ones in the world.”