January 5, 1980: Spectacular Bid Starts a Streak in the Malibu

In his first race of 1980, the Malibu Stakes on January 5, Bid faced only four other horses in the short, seven-furlong race. Race day was warm and sunny—typical of Southern California in winter.

Bid was assigned 126 pounds, the heaviest in the field, and seemed ready to resume his racing career, pawing at the ground in the paddock before the race. Flying Paster, eager to get another shot at Bid, was carrying 123 pounds. Bettors sent Bid off as the 3 to 10 favorite.

Spectacular Bid broke from the gate in his usual lumbering style. He let How Rewarding pass him and was last entering the clubhouse turn, but not too far off the leader, Rosie’s Seville. Flying Paster broke well and was in third place before giving it up to How Rewarding, who, after a slow start, was making a mad dash to the front and battling Rosie’s Seville for the lead. Bid was still in last place.

Jockey Bill Shoemaker inched Bid up between horses and into fourth place, just behind Flying Paster. When the Paster made his move on the inside around the far turn, Bid saw his rival and went with him. Throughout the turn, it was a four-horse race, with Rosie’s Seville still hanging on and Known Presence making a move.

Once they entered the homestretch, though, Spectacular Bid took over, even though he had gone around the turn four horses wide, just as he had done in the past with Franklin. He bolted into the lead as if his feet were not even leaving the ground, almost like a trotter.

Bid extended his lead to three lengths, then four, as Shoemaker hand-rode him almost the whole way, using the whip only once. In fact, Shoemaker had to slow Bid down to conserve the horse’s energy.

Flying Paster beaten again

The winning margin was five lengths over poor Flying Paster, who was being whipped all the way down the stretch but could not catch Bid. Once considered Bid’s equal or even his superior, the Paster had been beaten badly yet again—this time on his home track, and with no excuses.

Bid knew he had won. He was led to the winner’s circle, got his chocolate doughnut, and heard soothing sounds of encouragement from trainer Bud Delp and exercise rider Charlie Bettis, which calmed him down after the race.

In winning the Malibu, Bid broke another track record; the winning time was three-fifths of a second faster than the old track record, set back in 1954, and just one-fifth of a second off the world record set in 1972. By comparison, Affirmed had finished third in the Malibu in 1979.

If Shoemaker had let Bid loose all the way to the finish line, he could have set a world record for the distance. “He had his running shoes on,” Shoemaker said. “When we straightened out in the stretch, I hit him once, and he took off and left the others.”

Dr. Alex Harthill examined Bid after the race and told Delp and Bettis that Bid’s heartbeat was so slow, “it was like he’d been in his stall all day.”

It was the start of an undefeated season for Spectacular Bid, who would win all nine races he started that year.