Spectacular Bid was an American thoroughbred race horse. His sire was Bold Bidder, stakes winner of 13 races who also sired the 1974 Kentucky Derby winner, Cannonade. His grandsire was Bold Ruler, a U.S. Racing Hall of Fame inductee and an eight-time Leading sire in North America. His dam was Spectacular by Promised Land. "The Bid" was one of the most dominant racers of his time.
Spectacular Bid won 26 races of 30 started, winning US$ 2,781,607 over his career, a then-record sum. He finished worse than third just once in his career. He is unique among "great" horses in that he never lost between 7 furlongs and 1 1/4 miles, i.e., at any of the most common middle distance events in American racing. He is probably most noted for his ill-fated attempt at winning the Triple Crown which came up short in the Belmont Stakes as a result of a freak accident involving a safety pin in his stall the morning of the race and a questionable ride by jockey Ronnie Franklin.
The Los Angeles Times quoted jockey Bill Shoemaker as saying that Spectacular Bid was the best horse he ever rode.
Prior to Racing
Spectacular Bid was bred by Madelyn Jason and her mother, Mrs. William Gilmore. As a yearling, he was sold at auction for US$37,000 at the 1977 Keeneland September yearling sale to Harry and Teresa Meyerhoff of Hawksworth Farm, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He was a striking looking horse-- a beautiful dark almost blackish-gray.
As a 2 Year Old
Spectacular Bid began his racing career in 1978 as a two-year-old under the training of Grover G. "Bud" Delp, who would remain Spectacular Bid's trainer throughout his racing career. His first start occurred on June 30 at Pimlico Race Course, where over 5 1/2 furlong distance, he came within 2/5ths of a second of the track record for that distance. Three weeks later at his next start at Pimlico, an allowance race, he equalled the track record, 1:04 1/5. He notched stakes victories in the Grade III World's Playground Stakes, the Grade I Champagne Stakes, the Young America Stakes, the Grade I Laurel Futurity, in which he set a track record (a rarity for a 2 year old in a route race), running 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 3/5, and the Heritage Stakes. He also finished second in the Dover Stakes and had his only out-of-the-money finish in the Tyro Stakes.
By the end of his first year of racing, he had won 5 stakes races in 7 starts, set one track record and tied another, won US$384,484 and was named the Eclipse champion 2-year-old colt for the year. He was soon being compared to recent Triple Crown champions Seattle Slew and Affirmed.
Preparing for the Triple Crown
Spectacular Bid's second year of racing began where his first left off, reeling off 5 wins in rapid succession: the Hutcheson Stakes, the Fountain of Youth, the Florida Derby (all at Gulfstream Park), the Flamingo Stakes (at Hialeah), and the Blue Grass Stakes (at Keeneland Race Course). In the Florida Derby, Franklin had ridden Spectacular Bid so erratically that Delp chewed him out in public. "You idiot!" Delp screamed. "You nearly killed that horse!" Nonetheless, the horse won by 4 1/2 lengths.
Triple Crown Attempt
Spectacular Bid's ill-fated attempt at the Triple Crown began with the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in May 1979. He began the race as the odds-on favorite, with the California champion, Flying Paster, as the bettors' second choice. His trainer Bud Delp was so confident of victory that as the horse paraded in front of the fans, he called out to them "Go bet! Go bet!". Spectacular Bid went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over General Assembly, a very well bred son of Secretariat, and after suffering a leg cut during the race, Flying Paster finished fifth. After Spectacular Bid, the two-year-old champion would not win the Kentucky Derby again until Street Sense in 2007. Spectacular Bid was inbred 3×3 and as of 2005 remains the most inbred Kentucky Derby winner in more than 40 years.
Spectacular Bid's next step in the quest for the Triple Crown came at the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Bumped early, he ran wide and by the final stretch was in command. He handily won the race, outpacing his nearest competitor by 5 1/2 lengths. What was more stunning was the time on the clock; Spectacular Bid had run the course faster than either Seattle Slew or Affirmed, and by official time faster than Secretariat (though Secretariat's time in this race was embroiled in controversy). The stage was set for the Belmont Stakes.
The morning of the Belmont, a freak accident was discovered; Spectacular Bid had stepped on a safety pin. The pin had become embedded in the hoof, later leading to an infection that threatened his life and requiring the hoof to be drilled to cure the problem. However, after the discovery of the injury Spectacular Bid was not seen to be lame, and was entered into the race. Prior to the race, his teenaged jockey, Ronnie Franklin, engaged in a fist fight with Angel Cordero, Jr. in the jockey's preparation room. With the knowledge of Spectacular Bid's injury and the recent fist fight, Franklin ran a poor race, gunning Spectacular Bid early in the long race. Spectacular Bid faded to third behind Coastal and Golden Act, horses Spectacular Bid beat in other major races. This race was the last with Franklin as Spectacular Bid's jockey.
Post-Triple Crown Racing
Following the Belmont Stakes, Spectacular Bid took two months off to recover from the injury. He returned to racing with hall of fame jockey Bill Shoemaker who would remain his jockey through the remainder of Spectacular Bid's racing career. His first race back was in August 1979 with a warm-up race at Delaware Park. He blew away the competition, winning by more than 17 lengths and setting a new track record for 1 1/16 miles, 1:41 3/5. He followed this up with win at the Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park, beating both horses he had lost to in the Belmont Stakes months before, Coastal and Golden Act. He was scheduled to have raced in the Marlboro against 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, but Affirmed's owners had bowed out of the race in reaction to a 133 pound impost assignment to Affirmed.
Spectacular Bid did face off with Affirmed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Spectacular Bid challenged Affirmed no less than four times during the race, but came up short in the end coming in second to the Triple Crown winner. This would be the last race Spectacular Bid would lose. Spectacular Bid finished off the year with one more race, the Meadowlands Cup, once again setting a new track record at 1 1/4 miles, 2:01 1/5. At the end of the year, he was awarded the Eclipse champion 3-year-old colt for the year. His winnings for this year totalled US$1,279,333.
As a 4 Year Old
As a 4 year old, Spectacular Bid started in nine races, winning them all for winnings of US$1,117,790. He set four new track records at distances of 7/8ths of a mile, 1 1/4 miles, and twice at 1 1/8 miles.
His first three races, were part of the "Strub Series", all held at the Santa Anita Park course which the late Charles H. Strub owned and built. Spectacular Bid carried 126 pounds in each race and defeated Flying Paster each time. The first race in the series was the Grade II Malibu Stakes at 7 furlongs; Spectacular Bid ran the distance in 1:20 which stood as a track record for 27 years until Santa Anita removed its dirt track in favor of an artificial surface. Then he won the Grade II San Fernando Stakes, and finally, he won the Grade I Strub Stakes at 1 1/4 miles, running the fastest 1 1/4 miles ever run on a dirt track, 1:57 4/5 and breaking a 30 year old record of 1:58 1/5 set by Hall of Famer Noor under 130 pounds in his fourth defeat of Triple Crown winner Citation in 1950. Spectacular Bid's time still stands as the world record on a dirt track, having stood for 28 years.
Bid went on to win the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap (carrying 130 lbs) on a sloppy track March 2nd; then, he moved to Hollywood Park Racetrack where he won the Mervyn Leroy Handicap carrying 132 lbs on May 18th and the Grade I Californian Stakes carrying 130 lbs in a track record time of 1:45 4/5. He then shipped to Arlington Park to win the Grade III Washington Park Handicap under 130 lbs, setting another track record, 1:46 1/5 for 1 1/8 miles. Then it was on to Monmouth Park for the Grade I Amory L. Haskell Handicap, which he won under 132 lbs, defeating the champion filly Glorious Song.
He concluded with a walkover in the Woodward Stakes on September 20, 1980 at Belmont, covering the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02 2/5. A plan to race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup was aborted on the day of the race when a leg injury flared up. Delp thereafter announced his retirement.
During his final year, he compiled then-record earnings of US$2,781,607, and was named Horse of the Year, as well as winning an Eclipse award as Champion Older Horse.
As a Sire
His record as a sire was mixed by the measure of the expectations placed upon him based on his success as a race horse. During his tenure at Claiborne Farm his stud fees plummeted over the years following his retirement from racing. This ultimately resulted in his sale and move to (lesser regarded in horse racing circles) upstate New York. Nevertheless, over his years as a sire Spectacular Bid sired offspring that won 47 stakes and accumulated more than US$19 million in earnings. At the time of his death, his daughters had been broodmares for 69 stakes, ranking him among the top 35 broodmare sires in 2003.
Following his last race, Spectacular Bid was syndicated for a then record US$22 million and put to stud at the famed Claiborne Farm of Kentucky where his first year stud fee was $150,000 USD. He was moved in 1991 to Milfer Farms in Unadilla, New York where he lived out the remainder of his years although he was never pensioned from stud duty. In his last year standing his fee was $3,500 USD.
He died from a heart attack on June 9, 2003 and was buried at Milfer Farms.
In The Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, Spectacular Bid was ranked #10. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1982.