Nov. 11, 1978 – Spectacular Bid Wins Heritage Stakes in Philly

At Keystone Racetrack in Philadelphia on November 11, 1978, Bid ended an outstanding 2-year-old season with a dominating six-length victory  in the Heritage Stakes. Trainer Bud Delp wanted Spectacular Bid to run in one more race before his 2-year-old campaign was over—the Heritage Stakes on November 11—which, if he won, would help jockey Ron Franklin become Apprentice Jockey of the Year.

Some questioned why Bid needed to run in the Heritage Stakes, since he had all but wrapped up 2-Year-Old Male Horse  of the Year honors. It was only two weeks after the Laurel Futurity, and they thought the horse deserved a rest after a grueling 2-year-old campaign in which he had won six of eight races. But Delp was used to criticism. That might not be the way they did things in Kentucky, but it was the Bud Delp way.

In the Heritage Stakes, Bid came from behind; Delp wanted to see whether the colt could stalk the leaders from just off the pace and then make his move around the final turn, when the leaders tired. Sure enough, he was seven lengths off the lead through the first turn and into the backstretch before he got tired of watching the horses in front of him.

After half a mile, he made his move; heading into the final turn, he passed three other horses with ease and was suddenly astride Terrific Son, who had just taken the lead from a tiring Breezing On. Bid looked Terrific Son in the eye, and the other colt acquiesced. Bid bounded to a one-length lead at the three-eighths pole, putting daylight between himself and Sun Watcher, the second-place finisher. Terrific Son finished third.

Delp and Harry Meyerhoff admitted that this race had been only  a learning lesson for Spectacular Bid. Delp had entered Bid in the Heritage Stakes only because he knew he would win, but the trainer acknowledged that the horse needed a break. “If there had been anybody in there hard, we might have left him at the stall in Maryland,” he said.

Spectacular Bid was showing some maturity. He had shown that he could take the lead or come back from last place; he could lurk behind the leaders and still win. What would it take to beat him, besides running on a sloppy track or trying to box him in? Yet he had shown that as long as he could find an opening, he could pass the other horses on the outside and still win, despite the longer trip around the track.

Delp’s confidence in his colt was growing, and he let the press know it. “I think only an act of God will stop Spectacular Bid from winning the Triple Crown next year,” he told reporters. That was a rare statement to make about a 2-year-old colt, and the Kentucky establishment scoffed at his boasting. Going out on a limb and predicting a colt’s place in horse racing history so early in the horse’s career was risky.

Many horses have had promising 2-year-old campaigns, only to falter as 3-year-olds. In 1968, for instance, Top Knight was named 2-Year-Old Male Horse of the Year after victories in the Champagne, Hopeful, and Futurity stakes. He finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby, and his final record was 11 wins in 46 races. Protagonist received the 1973 award after winning four of seven races, including the Cowdin and Champagne Stakes and the Laurel Futurity. But he lost his first two races as a 3-year-old, finishing last in the Gotham Stakes, and he did not race in the Kentucky Derby. His final record: four wins in 10 starts.

So far, though, Spectacular Bid showed nothing but promise. He had won his last five races, all major stakes, on five different tracks. In fact, his nine starts had been on eight different tracks. “Not too many two-year-olds do that,” wrote Bob Maisel of the Baltimore Sun. “He definitely does not have to carry his racetrack around with him. Put him out there in good condition, and he does his job.”