Spectacular Bid: One of the Greatest Ever?

Spectacular BidWhen I was 10, I saw Spectacular Bid win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with ease. When he finished third in the Belmont Stakes, I was crushed. But life went on; I heard something about a safety pin, but I brushed Bid aside and looked for the next Kentucky Derby winner in 1980.

Little did I know that Bid would go on to have a stellar career – perhaps one of the best ever. Here are some facts about “the greatest horse ever to look through a bridle”:

  • Spectacular Bid raced 30 times and won 26 of those races. He finished second twice, third once, and fourth in the other race. (He was a 2-year-old and didn’t like the slop at Monmouth Park.) That’s an 86.1% winning percentage, third only to Native Dancer and Man O’ War among the top tier of horses of the 20th century, according to the Blood-Horse magazine.
  • If you take away his 2-year-old season – a year in which many colts and fillies are still maturing and learning the ropes of racing – he won 19 of 21 races.
  • He had winning streaks of 12 and 10 races, including an undefeated 4-year-old season in which he won all 9 of his races.
  • He raced on 15 different tracks, winning at 14 of them, and traveled over 10,000 miles during his career.
  • He set seven track records and equaled another. In preparation for the Hutcheson Stakes early in his 3-year-old season, he tied a track record during a workout.
  • In the 1980 Strub Stakes, he set a world record for 1 1/4 miles on dirt- 1:57 4/5. The record still stands today.
  • In their book A Century of Champions, authors John Randall and Tony Morris, using Timeform figures, places Spectacular Bid ninth in the world during the 20th century – third in the United States, even ahead of Man O’ War.
  • He won 2-Year-Old Colt of the Year, 3-Year-Old Colt of the Year, and 1980 Horse of the Year. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.
  • In a fantasy horse race conducted by the Louisville Courier-Journal staff involving the greatest horses of all time, writers chose Spectacular Bid winning the race over Citation. Secretariat finished third.
  • Former Washington Post columnist Andrew Beyer said of Spectacular Bid: “I think Spectacular Bid could reasonably be rated as a close number two on the all-time list, after Secretariat, and he deserves extra credit for his great consistency.”
  • In perhaps the ultimate show of respect for the horse, Spectacular Bid won the 1980 Woodward Stakes in a walkover – no other horse dared to face him. He ran unopposed and clocked the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02 2/5 – the same time as his Kentucky Derby win. It was the first walkover since Coaltown in 1949, and the last one to occur in a stakes race.

The main knock against Spectacular Bid is that he never won at 1 1/2 miles. But he was injured by the infamous safety pin in the Belmont Stakes, and was narrowly defeated by a stronger, more mature Affirmed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1979. He probably would have won the 1980 Jockey Club Gold Cup, but an injury forced him to be scratched and retired.

Still dubious? Perhaps it’s given you food for thought and made you reconsider Spectacular Bid’s place in history. I personally have Bid third all-time behind Man O’ War and Secretariat.

Who’s in your top 3?





  1. Myrin Roberts
    • October 15, 2019
    • 3:08 pm

    Spectacular Bid
    Seattle Slew

    Triple S’s

    • Peter Lee
      • October 28, 2019
      • 11:12 am

      Nice alliteration! 🙂

  2. Helvetian
    • October 27, 2020
    • 5:37 pm

    1. Secretariat
    2. Dr. Fager
    3. Spectacular Bid

    • Peter Lee
      • October 27, 2020
      • 6:47 pm

      I can’t argue with that top 3!

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