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.

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