August 16, 1980: Bid Challenged in Haskell – or Was He?

Haskell poster

Poster advertising Bid’s presence in the Haskell Handicap

By the summer of 1980, Spectacular Bid had become a superstar. Racecourses around the country wanted the horse at their tracks to attract crowds. Monmouth Park printed posters announcing that Bid would race in the $250,000 Haskell Handicap August 16. It was as if the circus was coming to town.

The Haskell was a handicap, and trainer Bud Delp pressured the racing secretary to keep the weight down or his horse would not run. This presented a problem to officials, who wanted to have Bid at their track but also wanted to follow handicap rules and equalize the race so there would be some competition.

Delp won – sort of. Bid got 132 pounds for the Haskell, equal to his career-high weight, although Washington Post columnist Andrew Beyer said after his last romp under that weight, it should have been 135 or even 140.

It was a shrewd move; Delp and the Meyerhoffs were thinking ahead. But Bid’s weight of 132 pounds (as much as Affirmed ever carried) encouraged six other horses to enter the Haskell, and Bid was conceding 15 to 22 pounds to them.

Facing Bid for the first time was the impressive filly Glorious Song, who had won six of nine starts and earned more than $400,000 that year. The Haskell was held at Monmouth Park—the site of Bid’s first loss, the romp in the mud at the Tyro Stakes when Bid was a 2-year-old.

Starting as the 1–9 favorite, Bid came out of the gate slowly—seventh after a quarter mile—and had moved to just sixth after a half mile. Steelwood and Boyne Valley battled for the lead with The Cool Virginian third and Glorious Song fifth.

Fans grew nervous when they did not see Bid’s typical move on the backstretch. But Shoemaker, remaining patient, had his eye on the filly, and when she made her move heading into the turn, Spectacular Bid went with her, needing no encouragement from Shoemaker. He knew she was the one to beat.

Around the turn, Steelwood, Boyne Valley, and Tunerup were leading, with Glorious Song coming up between horses and Bid following her on the outside.

Glorious Song emerged from the turn as the leader, with Bid on her heels, four horses wide. When he tried to pass her, she held him off, battling with him down the stretch.

But Bid was not to be denied; it took several whips from Shoemaker to get him in front and pull away at the finish to win by one and three-quarters lengths. It had been a hard-fought race, given Bid’s recent victories, but he had once again found his extra gear and defeated a challenger.

Or had it been a hard-fought race?

Conspiracy theorists thought Delp was doing the same thing he had done in the San Fernando Stakes: make the race closer than it was to show that weight was affecting the horse, hoping that racing secretaries for the Marlboro would take it easy on him. If Bid had blown the competition away, 132 pounds would not be enough. But if he struggled . . .

In the winner’s circle, Delp pointed a finger at Monmouth racing secretary Kenny Lenox and said, “I told you. I told you that weight spread would make him go all out today.” He added, “That filly made him run. She’s a hell of a horse to be giving fifteen pounds to—the best filly in the country, if you ask me.”

And with that, the performance was over; the media had gotten the sound bite he wanted them to have.

August 2, 1978: Spectacular Bid Slops in the Tyro

sloppy track

Diana Robinson Photography

After winning his maiden and an allowance race, Spectacular Bid needed a step up in competition. So trainer Bud Delp entered Bid in the August 2, 1978 Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park, a race with so many horses entered that it had two heats. Although the distance was the same as Bid’s first two races—five and a half furlongs—the competition in the Tyro would be better.

As luck would have it, the rains came on race day. It rained hard and long and made the track a complete mess, full of standing water and mud.

Concerned about Bid slipping and injuring himself, Delp considered scratching him from the race. But he instead opted to give the colt some experience while keeping him safe. Knowing he had an inexperienced jockey on a valuable horse, he instructed young jockey Ron Franklin to protect the horse, no matter what happened, and make sure Bid didn’t get hurt. The jockey was to sit on him and not make a move during the entire race.

It was the first time Spectacular Bid had raced in the slop; he was not used to the mud splashing him in the face and on the stomach. Racing in the second division of the stakes, Bid buck jumped and leaped over mud puddles, doing everything but run; it was almost comical.

He broke out of the gate last and was still twelve lengths behind halfway through the race. Franklin followed Delp’s instructions and sat on him, keeping him out of trouble and making sure he did not slip in the mud. The colt loafed to the finish line seven lengths back, but despite his slow foray through the slop, his natural speed still enabled him to capture fourth place out of eight horses behind the winner, Groton High.

It was disappointing, but considering the conditions, Bid’s behavior, and Franklin’s cautious ride, it was a respectable finish. Later, Delp would regret entering the horse in the race, saying he should have scratched him. But it was a learning experience for the colt, one he would remember later.

July 22, 1978: Spectacular Bid Wins His Second Start

Three weeks after Spectacular Bid won his debut in impressive fashion, trainer Bud Delp lined up a second matchup for the horse—another five-and-a-half-furlong race at Pimlico Race Course on July 22, 1978.

The crowd had heard of his 3 1/2-length maiden victory at Pimlico and sent him off as a 3–10 favorite, which meant bettors would win just sixty cents on a two-dollar bet.

As he had in his first race, Bid started slowly and was third in the early going, but jockey Ron Franklin bided his time, waiting patiently until the far turn to make his move.

Once he did, Bid took command, steadily drew away, and won by eight lengths over Silent Native. The time of 1:04 1/5 for five-and-a-half furlongs was a track record.

Bid was now two for two in his first two starts. His first stakes race was awaiting him.