July 19, 1980: Bid Breaks A Record in Chicago

Spectacular Bid had spent all of 1980 in California, but by summer trainer Bud Delp was getting concerned about the toll the hard surfaces at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park were taking on his colt.

So Bid went to Chicago to race in the $250,000 Washington Park Stakes at Arlington Park on July 19—formerly known as the Washington Park Handicap. Arlington Park officials wanted Bid badly and would do anything to get him there; knowing that a handicap might scare off Delp and company, officials dropped the handicap provision for only the second time in fifty-two runnings of the race. They also added a provision that if the winner of a Triple Crown race ran in the stakes, the purse would double from $125,000 to $250,000.

The weather in Chicago was not cooperating. The heat was unbearable in Chicago, but the forecast called for rain on the day of the race, and Delp planned to scratch Bid if the track was sloppy.

When race day came, however, there was only a sprinkle of rain—just enough to cool things down to a bearable eighty-four degrees. Delp looked over the track and said, “Damascus, kiss your track record goodbye.”

Five horses raced against Bid. Hold Your Tricks, sharing the second-highest weight at a modest 119 pounds, held a two-length lead down the backstretch with Bid settling for fourth place.

Jockey Bill Shoemaker swung Bid to the outside—just as former jockey Ron Franklin would have done—and as the pack approached the far turn, Bid felt the need to make his move. He drew even with Hold Your Tricks, then sped away with Shoemaker hand-riding him, winning by a remarkable ten lengths.

Damascus’s record, shared with Jatski, was now gone, replaced by a new track record, Bid’s seventh, in a time of 1:46 1/5 over one and one-eighth miles.

It was his eighth win in a row.

Dan Farley of the Thoroughbred Record said the performance “further confirmed Spectacular Bid’s status as one of the best American-breds ever and certainly the best—by many lengths—we have to offer this season.”

June 30, 1978: Spectacular Bid Wins His Maiden

The day of Spectacular Bid’s first race was hot and humid; the temperature would reach 90 degrees that day. Since the race was at nearby Pimlico Race Course, it was easy for the Meyerhoffs, Bid’s owners, to see their newest acquisition.

“[Trainer] Bud [Delp] usually says, ‘If you want to come, come,’” Teresa Meyerhoff said. “But with Bid, he said, ‘I think you should be there because I think he is going to run very well.’”

They were treated to a show. Bid pranced around in the post parade, light on his feet as if he were ready to get the race over with. The assistant starters loaded each horse in the starting gate; the bell signaled the start, and the doors to the gate opened with the track looming ahead.

Slow start, fast finish

Bid lumbered out of the starting gate and settled into fifth place behind the rest of the field. It took a while to get his long, clumsy legs to gain their rhythm, but they soon settled into a pattern, and he took off.

He passed his competitors with ease as his effortless stride took hold of the track, and he claimed the lead quickly, never looking back. Franklin hand-rode him the entire way and never had to use his whip, as the two-year-old romped to a three and one-quarter length win over a fast-closing Strike Your Colors.

His time for the 5 1/2 furlongs was 1:04 3/5, two-fifths of a second away from the track record. It was his first race. And he was only two.

Upstairs in the press box, William Phillips of the Daily Racing Form turned to Pimlico general manager Chick Lang and said, “We’ve got ourselves a good one. We’ve got a Kentucky Derby horse!”

The best was yet to come.

Bid getting passed by Coastal

Two Very Bad Days

Coastal passes Spectacular Bid in the Belmont Stakes

Coastal, right, passes Spectacular Bid on the inside to take the lead in the 1979 Belmont Stakes. Golden Act is approaching on the outside. (AP photo)

June 9 marks two bad days in Spectacular Bid’s life.

Death of Spectacular Bid

On June 9, 2003, Spectacular Bid, one of the greatest racehorses in modern history, died of a heart attack at the age of 27. His coat, once a battleship gray, had turned snowy-white. His world-record syndication at stud for $22 million had turned into a paltry $3,500 price for stud services, now at Milfer Farm in Unadilla, NY. He was buried at Milfer Farm.

Spectacular Bid’s death came 24 years to the day after his worst racing day ever: a loss in the Belmont Stakes that cost him horse racing’s Triple Crown. And it all started that morning with a safety pin.

Spectacular Bid and the Belmont Stakes

Spectacular Bid was known as a “pin-picker,” a horse who constantly nibbled at the safety pins attaching the bandages to his legs. Usually groom Mo Hall sprinkled hot pepper on the bandages so Bid wouldn’t bother them, but the night before the Belmont, he forgot.

Bid picked at the safety pin, and one fell out, its point miraculously pointing up in the straw. Bid stepped on it, and it went about an inch into his hoof.

When trainer Bud Delp came in the next morning, Hall exclaimed, “Boss, this horse is lame.” Delp discovered the pin and pulled it out with all his might. It sealed off quickly, and for the rest of the day Delp tested the foot to see if there was any heat or lameness. There was none.

So Bid went to the post. But from the outside, jockey Ron Franklin knew there was trouble: Bid was not changing leads, preferring to stay off his left foot, the one that had the safety pin in it.

Then, inexplicably Franklin went to the front in the backstretch, chasing a long shot, Gallant Best, who was setting record fractions.

By the time the horses entered the homestretch, Bid, still on his left lead, started tiring and drifted out. Ruben Hernandez on Coastal recognized this and sneaked in along the rail, overtaking Bid in the stretch.

To add insult to injury (so to speak), Golden Act passed Bid at the wire. He finished third. A third Triple Crown in a row was not to be, and there would not be another one for 37 years.

Bid’s injury turned almost lethal; an infection developed in the hoof, and he was sidelined for several months trying to learn how to run again.