The Early Signs of a Champion: Excerpt from SPECTACULAR BID

04.1 - Spectacular Bid Winning 1979

IN JUNE 1978, while he was having dinner with Bud Delp, Ron Franklin, who had been riding Spectacular Bid as part of his regular schedule, said, “Boss, that’s a helluva colt we got.”

“How the hell would you know?” Delp asked in his grumpy but amiable way.

Franklin knew. Earlier in the day, the apprentice jockey had ridden Bid half a mile in a blazing forty-six seconds flat. A good time for an adult racehorse to run four furlongs during a workout is forty-eight seconds. And Bid was a baby, a two-year-old that was just learning to race and whose bones and muscles had not yet matured.

When he got off the horse, Franklin said, “This horse is great! He feels like two horses under you. When you pull him up, he wants to go again.” Delp answered Franklin as a master would respond to an overeager apprentice: “What the hell are you talking about? What do you know about horses?” Delp himself did not want to admit it, but he was getting excited about this colt. Was this the horse he had been waiting for? Was this the horse that would lift him out of the claiming business? Could he have a champion? 06.1 - Spectacular Bid CB


Bid had returned from Middleburg Training Center in March 1978, along with the rest of Hawksworth Farm’s crop, and Delp’s assistant, Charlie Bettis, had been working with Bid for a few weeks. “Bud came over to see him,” Bettis said. “He came away impressed, and said, ‘He needs to be with me [at Pimlico].’” Delp had taken three of the Meyerhoffs’ most promising colts from the Keeneland sale to Middleburg; when he saw Bid run against the other two colts, Seethreepeo and I Know Why1, he said, “I could see that Bid was best.” Delp had to stop running Bid with the other two horses for fear that he would dishearten them with his speed. Franklin had to keep Bid under tight control to keep the other two horses on pace with the colt.The more Bid trained, the stronger he got and the more he wanted to train. He was like an Olympic athlete, taking all he could from his trainer and wanting more. “The more I did with him, the more he thrived,” Delp said. “He was telling me something about him, every day. But I had to be careful; you can overdo it, right from the get-go.” Bid’s racing style was unorthodox—he held his head unusually high, and his gait was so quick, so smooth and effortless, that it looked as if he were out for a short gallop—but it worked. His feet seemed to skim the ground as his “perfect ass”—as one trainer put it—transmitted a powerful snapping power to the hind legs, propelling him to a higher gear. Harry Meyerhoff used to joke that in every picture of Spectacular Bid, the horse’s feet were off the ground. Delp likened his legs to tree stumps.

Pimlico general manager Chick Lang remembered Delp taking him into Bid’s stall and saying, “Put your hand on him. Slap him.” When he did, it was like hitting a piece of steel. “He’s one big muscle. And when I felt his knees and ankles, it’s like having a tray of ice in your hand. There isn’t a bit of heat anywhere (the sign of an injury).” Delp told Lang he wanted to bring Bid along slowly after the 1978 winter break—just walking him around the paddock at first. “He said the horse was actually mad, raised hell all the way to his stall because he thought he was going to run and didn’t,” Lang recalled. 

Lee SPECTACULAR BID cvr for publicityPeter Lee, a former journalist, runs the blog The Way to Churchill Downs, which reports on Derby hopefuls for the coming year. He is the author of The Death and Life of Mal Evans and is a regular contributor to The full text is available through our website: [link]

  1. Seethreepeo ran for Hawksworth Farm, collecting thirteen wins in forty-five starts. I Know Why was claimed by King Leatherbury and finished first in twelve of his fifty-six starts.
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