Spectacular Bid: a legend undone by a pin

Having witnessed back-to-back Triple Crowns, thoroughbred racing fans eagerly awaited 1979 and, with Spectacular Bid poised for greatness, many expected a three-peat. The dominant colt rolled to victory in the Kentucky Derby and again in the Preakness, but immortality escaped him.

It could have been the infamous safety pin; it could have been just an off day, but Spectacular Bid lost in the Belmont Stakes -- probably the race for which he's best remembered.

A gray son of Bold Bidder, bred in Kentucky by Mrs. William Jason and Mrs. William Gilmore, Spectacular Bid won 26 of his 30 starts.

The Spectacular Bid Profile

  • Place of birth: Lexington, Ky.
  • Date of birth/age of death: Foaled Feb. 17, 1976/died at 27 on June 9, 2003.
  • Sex: Male.
  • Owner: Harry and Teresa Meyerhoff of Hawksworth Farm.
  • Trainer: Grover G. "Bud" Delp.
  • Sire and Dam: Bold Bidder, Spectacular.
  • Jockey/s: Ronnie Franklin, Jorge Velasquez, William Shoemaker.
  • Record: 30 races: 26 wins, two seconds, one third and one fourth.
  • Career earnings: $2,781,608.

Spectacular Bid Achievements

The $37,000 yearling purchase won his first two starts, lost the next two and then reeled off 12 consecutive wins.

He closed out 1978 with wins in the Champagne Stakes, Young America Stakes, Laurel Futurity and Heritage Stakes to clinch the 2-year-old title.

The streak continued through the first Saturday in May 1979. Spectacular Bid was a popular betting favorite in the Kentucky Derby, but not so popular among racing fans. His outspoken trainer, Bud Delp, prior to the Derby had described the gray colt as "the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle."

But the Derby field -- and Spectacular Bid's skeptics -- were dealt a resounding defeat by the 3-5 favorite.

Spectacular Bid faced only four others in the Preakness. As a 1-10 favorite , he rewarded his backers a meager $2.20 to win, tied with Citation (1948) for the lowest Preakness payout.

A Triple Crown sweep seemed a mere formality, but it was not to be. Though he lost the Belmont Stakes, Spectacular Bid finished his career with victories in 12 of his final 13 starts.

In eight of his 30 races, Spectacular Bid set or tied a track record.

He was voted champion at 2, 3 and again, in 1980 as a 4-year-old, a three-year accomplishment that has not been repeated since then.

Spectacular Bid retired as the sport's all-time leading money-earner with $2,781,608 and was ranked 10th in a Blood-Horse poll of the top horses of the 20th century.

Notable Remarks

When racing historians remember Spectacular Bid, they inevitably include his Belmont Stakes disappointment right at the top. Spectacular Bid weakened to finish third as Coastal passed him to win by 3 ¼ lengths with Golden Act, the Preakness runner-up, second.

Many observers concluded his Belmont performance was the result of an off day, or perhaps too many races.

Delp said his horse stepped on a safety pin that morning, saying the wound and minor infection caused problems as post time neared.

Delp and Spectacular Bid took on 1978 Triple Crown champion Affirmed in the 1979 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Affirmed narrowly defeated his younger rival, winning by three-quarters of a length -- Spectacular Bid's last loss.

He was retired and syndicated at stud for $22 million. None of Spectacular Bid's offspring became champions, though his 253 winners included 47 stakes. 

His walkover in the 1980 Woodward was the last in a major American race and the first since Citation's walkover in the 1948 Pimlico Special.

"Of the horses I'm familiar with,” Delp said in a 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times, “only Citation and Secretariat would have run with the Bid.”

In 2003, Spectacular Bid suffered a fatal heart attack on June 9, 24 years to the day that he lost in the Belmont Stakes.