Substitute jockey Jorge Velasquez was up on Spectacular Bid for the colt’s first race around two turns, the Young America Stakes at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., on the evening of October 19. Bid was the bettor’s favorite at 3 to 10 odds, but he almost blew it. Or, rather, Velasquez almost did.
A Bumpy Start
At the start, the Canadian gelding Port Ebony swerved toward the outside and ran into several horses, including Bid. The collision caused Bid to veer off course, slow down, and fall back to seventh place, boxed in behind a wall of horses coming around the first turn.
He regained his form, moving between horses in the first turn until he reached third place. Down the backstretch, he continued to make a strong move, challenging the leader, Make a Mess. But Velasquez held Bid back, allowing Make a Mess to hang around and battle for the lead. Again, Bid fought against the reins, wanting the lead for himself.
For three-quarters of a mile, the two ran as one, with Bid coming at Make a Mess multiple times until the latter tired. Then, with one furlong left, Strike Your Colors, the horse that had beaten Bid in the Tyro, inched ahead. Another horse named Instrument Landing also surged toward the leaders, and in the final 500 feet, it was a three-horse race. The crowd of 18,219 leaped to their feet as the three horses raced neck and neck.
A Photo Finish
Velasquez threw everything into his mount—using the whip liberally— as Bid tried to inch ahead in the final yards. Digging his hooves into the dirt, reaching as far as he could with each stride, and breathing heavily, he could not find that extra gear and pull away. Perhaps the battle with Make a Mess had tired him. Maybe Strike Your Colors and Instrument Landing were too fresh. It was a photo finish.
The crowd waited for the stewards to examine the photo and post the winner. The horses walked around the oval, cooling down and blowing hard after such a heated battle, as the jockeys continually checked the scoreboard.
Velasquez’s urging had worked: the finish-line photo showed Spectacular Bid winning by a neck over Strike Your Colors, who edged out Instrument Landing by a head for second. For all his troubles—being boxed in, having to go around several horses, slowing down, and going after Make a Mess numerous times—he finished the mile-and-one-sixteenth race in 1:431/5, just one second off the track record.
Trainer Bud Delp was not happy with Velasquez’s performance. “Going up the backside, the colt wanted the lead real bad,” said an irritated Delp, who had wanted another runaway win in front of the New York crowd. “Velasquez reached down and took a hold on him. So the colt relaxed and stayed with the horse alongside him. That made it a hard race.” If it sounded like Delp was criticizing Velasquez instead of Bid, he was.
And with that, young Ron Franklin was back on Bid as jockey.