Sept. 8, 1979: Bid Wins Marlboro Cup

Marlboro Cup program

When NYRA racing secretary Lenny Hale assigned weights for the 1979 Marlboro Cup, he assigned Affirmed, a 4-year-old, 133 pounds; Spectacular Bid, still only 3 years old, 124 pounds; and Coastal, 122 pounds. “I don’t see how [Affirmed’s trainer] Laz Barrera can complain about it, but he will,” Hale said.

He was right. Barrera was furious. “It’s the Wolfsons’ horse, and they can do with him what they want,” he said. “But if he were my horse I would not run him.”

The owners agreed, and the next day, Barrera withdrew Affirmed from the Marlboro Cup, citing unfair handicapping weights.

Bud Delp, Spectacular Bid’s trainer, was disappointed that Bid would not be running against the best. “Laz is smart, but it’s bad for the sport,” he said. “This would have been the Race of the Century. I’ve never seen a field of this caliber. It’s still the Race of the Decade.”

With Affirmed absent, Delp predicted that champion sprinter Star de Naskra would be his stiffest competition, and he threw a barb at General Assembly. “General Assembly won’t win it. That’s one horse I know I’m going to beat. I’ve beaten him five times. He keeps coming back for more.”

Boos for Bid at the Marlboro

The morning of the Marlboro broke hot and steamy, with an expected temperature of 84 degrees. Wearing a red Marlboro blazer, Delp was sweating and wiping his face with a handkerchief as he heard catcalls coming from the New Yorkers: “Hey! Watch out for those safety pins!” and “Got all those pins out?” Delp ignored them, focusing instead on his prized Thoroughbred. He believed no accident would befall Bid today, and the outcome would be no accident either.

Bid was his usual antsy, rank self before the race, skipping and hopping his way to the starting gate. But he went in the gate smoothly. The bell clanged, the gates sprang open, and they were off.

The gray colt started well and settled into third place, just behind front-runners Star de Naskra and General Assembly, with Coastal and Text not far behind. The pace was agonizingly slow; at the half-mile mark, jockey Bill Shoemaker had seen enough and let a notch out of Bid’s reins.

Bid responded and passed the two leaders, but Text made a move as well, and he and General Assembly held on. Text was just a neck behind Bid, and General Assembly was a neck behind Text. Delp, who had no binoculars, asked owner Harry Meyerhoff what was going on. Harry confirmed that Bid had just taken the lead, and Delp said, “He’ll win.” When the time for the half mile was posted (a snail-like 47 2/5 seconds), he boasted, “This race is history.”

As the pack rounded the turn for home, Bid extended his lead to 1 1/2 lengths, and the field was chasing him futilely. “Everybody was whipping and driving and I really hadn’t asked my horse to run,” Shoemaker said. When he did ask Bid to run, the horse responded, extending his lead down the homestretch with his effortless stride, winning by 5 lengths over General Assembly in what seemed like an exhibition.

The time was 1:46 3/5, just a second behind Secretariat’s track record. Coastal was never in contention. He tried to mimic his Belmont finish with a ride along the rail but finished third, 1 1/2  lengths behind General Assembly.


The crowd roared its approval. It was sweet revenge for Bid, who had defeated Coastal by 6 1/2 lengths at the same track where he had lost in the Belmont Stakes. “[Bid] established without a doubt his supremacy over the other members of his generation,” wrote Andrew Beyer of the Washington Post. “And today’s race certainly verified Delp’s insistence that the Belmont was not a true performance by his horse.”

Barrera felt justified in his decision. “[Spectacular Bid] showed yesterday that he should have won the Triple Crown,” he said on Sunday. “He wins the Marlboro in 1:46 3/5 with Shoemaker hardly using the whip. If Affirmed is in the race and Shoe uses the whip, Spectacular Bid goes in 1:46. Then Affirmed has to run his eyeballs out with 133 pounds to win in 1:45 and change. It is asking too much. He would be knocked out for the rest of the year.”

Without actually saying it, Barrera implied that Affirmed would have lost to Bid.

Despite Bid’s win, Harry Meyerhoff expressed his disappointment at Affirmed’s absence. “Our horse ran a great race, and we’re sorry we didn’t meet [Affirmed],” he said.

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.”

August 20, 1978: Spectacular Bid Fails in Dover

Bud Delp, Spectacular Bid’s trainer, wanted revenge for Bid’s loss in the Tyro Stakes. So Hawksworth Farm put up $5,000 to enter the horse as a supplementary addition to the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park on August 12.

The day before the race, though, Delp got a call from Bid’s veterinarian, who said the horse had a touch of colic. Delp quickly announced that Bid was not running in the race.

Once the horse recuperated, Delp entered the horse in the Dover Stakes on August 20. The bettors’ favorite, Bid got out of the gate in second position, then settled back and let a few horses pass him. Jockey Ron Franklin’s inexperience showed as he allowed Bid to get caught behind two horses on the rail. He had a split second to go outside and around the horses, but he hesitated, and Strike Your Colors, who finished second to Bid in his maiden win, pulled up beside him.

Franklin and Bid were boxed in. They couldn’t go left because they were beside the rail, and they couldn’t go right because there was a horse beside them. There were two horses in front of them as well. Locked into fourth place, Franklin again refused to take advantage of an opening between horses at the half-mile pole. Meanwhile, Bid strained at the reins, eager to take off.

Strike Your Colors made his move on the outside and took the lead heading into the stretch, but Franklin didn’t follow him until it was too late. He took Bid around the row of horses at the five-sixteenths pole and flew by them. Bid aimed his sights on Strike Your Colors, but he didn’t have enough track. He finished second by two-and-a-half lengths.

It was the second defeat in a row for Bid.

His record in four starts: two wins, one second, and one fourth—respectable, but not outstanding. Delp was furious with the young 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.”