The Last Superhorse of the 20th Century
A safety pin.
A simple device used to pin bandages on horses’ legs was all that kept Spectacular Bid from winning the Belmont Stakes, the Triple Crown, and racing immortality. The horse stepped on the pin the morning of the Belmont, and running on a hurt foot, he finished third.
It was an unlucky break in a career that was otherwise, well, spectacular: 30 races, 26 wins, 2 seconds and the one third. His trainer, the outspoken, cocky Grover “Bud” Delp, called Bid “the greatest horse to look through a bridle.” And the way the horse ran, it was not hard to believe. Racing with his irregular style, slightly askew with his head erect and alert, he set records in nine races, including a world record time in a mile and a quarter that still stands today.
He is ranked as the 10th greatest American race horse of the 20th century, according to The Blood-Horse magazine, and was named the third best North American horse of the century – even above Man o’ War – in the book A Century of Champions. And yet, only one small book has been written about the horse, as part of a series.
The story of Spectacular Bid is one with a colorful cast of characters:
- The Meyerhoffs. Spectacular Bid’s owners were not part of the Kentucky establishment but hit it big by paying only $37,000 for the colt, who went on to win over $2 million, the richest earnings ever at that time;
- Delp. The small-track trainer was always known for a quip and a mouthful of boasting regarding Spectacular Bid and always protected him like a prize fighter;
- Ron Franklin. The nineteen-year-old jockey who rode Bid to victory in the Kentucky Derby had never even ridden a horse two years earlier. He was destined to be the next wonder boy jockey, but he succumbed to the pressures of the Triple Crown and widespread criticism of his riding and sunk into a life of drug abuse, eventually being taken off the horse in favor of the great Bill Shoemaker.
- Spectacular Bid. A dull battleship gray horse with very few hints in his lineage that pointed toward superstardom—his grandmother was a twin, which is almost unheard of in horse racing, and his mother raced at county fairs, Bid quickly stormed America’s racecourses with his powerful stride, taking the first two legs of the Triple Crown with ease.
His third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes had many dismiss him as just an ordinary horse compared to Secretariat or Seabiscuit. But Bid was just beginning to hit his peak, and he went on to win 13 of his next 14 races, including his last nine races in a row as a four-year-old. He was so feared by other trainers that in his last race, no one dared take him on, even for second place money. He won in a walkover, racing by himself, the first one since 1949. He was the last great horse in a decade that saw three Triple Crown winners, and his near-miss in the Triple Crown started a drought that lasted 37 years – broken just recently by American Pharoah in 2015.
Spectacular Bid: The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century will be marketed to horse racing fans around the country – about 8.25 million attended at least one horse race in 2014, according to Statista.com, and in 2015, more than 7 million people said they were very interested in horse racing. There will also be potential readers who remember Bid’s race for the Triple Crown, and any lover of biographies will find the mix of characters intriguing, as they were with Seabiscuit. Bud Delp and owner Harry Meyerhoff have passed on, but I have interviewed Teresa Meyerhoff Pete, Delp and Meyerhoff’s sons, and jockey Ron Franklin for his unique take on riding Bid. I’m also interviewing prominent writers in the industry such as Andrew Beyer and Brian Zipse.
Currently in editing phase