Two Very Bad Days

    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)

    On June 9, 2003, Spectacular Bid, one of the greatest racehorses in modern history, died 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 $3,500 price for stud services, now at Milfer Farm in Unadilla, NY.

    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 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.

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