Sept. 23, 1978: Spectacular Bid Wows the World’s Playground

Spectacular Bid’s loss in the Dover Stakes in 1978 was his second loss in a row. The 2-year-old’s record in four starts was two wins, one second, and one fourth—respectable, but not outstanding. Trainer Bud Delp was furious with young jockey Ron Franklin for getting Bid trapped on the rail. “No way the horse should have got beat,” Delp said. “If Ronnie hadn’t had him in trouble, he’d [have] won by 10.”

Delp realized that if he had a special horse on his hands, he would need a special jockey. The Meyerhoffs’ first choice was 18-year-old Steve Cauthen, the whiz kid behind Affirmed’s Triple Crown run the year before. He was the same age as Franklin, but his experience made him look like a 30-year-old. He was the first jockey to win $6 million in one season and was the nation’s most winning jockey in 1977. In 1978 he was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

Rejected by Cauthen

Delp called Cauthen’s agent, Lenny Goodman, and asked about the jockey’s availability. He told Goodman he had a special horse, one that could win the Triple Crown, and owners with deep pockets. He wanted Cauthen to ride Spectacular Bid in all his races, starting with the World’s Playground Stakes in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 23.

Goodman was coy, telling Delp he would think about it and get back to him. Delp did not like to be played with, so he went with Franklin again for the World’s Playground. The seven-furlong race would feature some of the more talented 2-year-olds, including Strike Your Colors and Groton High, the two horses that had defeated Bid in his last two races.

That would not be the case this time.

Spectacular Bid Waltzes in World’s Playground

Franklin took Spectacular Bid to the lead after the pacesetter, Honest Moment, posted a blistering quarter mile in twenty-two seconds. Bid was ahead by two lengths after a half mile and six lengths after six furlongs. “After that it looked like bowling pins falling over,” Delp said. “One horse after another coming at him and falling back.”

Bid kept going and did not let up; he finished the final furlong in eleven and four-fifths seconds, crossed the finish line fifteen lengths ahead of Crest of the Wave, and set a new track record in the process—an astounding 1:20 4/5. His margin of victory is still a record. Usually, by the end of a race, the split times are much slower because the horses are tiring, but Bid’s final furlong was almost as fast as his first. Coastal, the horse that had won the other division of the Tyro Stakes in the slop, was a badly beaten fifth, 17 lengths behind Bid.

“We knew Spectacular Bid was a serious talent going in, but what he did at Atlantic City, winning by fifteen lengths in 1:20 and change, well . . . two-year-olds just don’t do that,” said Brian Zipse, senior writer with Horse Racing Nation. Bid had made his statement. And the horse racing community turned its collective head toward Atlantic City and raised its eyebrow at this horse owned, trained, and ridden by a group of Marylanders.

Lenny Goodman called Delp the next day, and the trainer’s son Doug took a message: “Lenny . . . Cauthen . . . Idiot . . . Please call.” When Goodman finally talked to Delp, he reiterated his earlier message—he had been an idiot—and asked if the offer for Cauthen to ride Bid was still available. Delp replied that he would take a rain check and hung up.