Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame

Spectacular Bid

1980 Horse of the Year

Spectacular Bid is another one of those supposedly modestly bred horses who made good. His sire was Bold Bidder, a son of Bold Ruler and the Handicap Champion in 1966, when he set a track record winning the Charles H. Strub Stakes. Bold Bidder's most successful offspring prior to Spectacular Bid was Cannonade, the Kentucky Derby winner of 1974. So his sire wasn't exactly an escaped farm teaser or an obscure sire of hunters, he just wasn't a leading sire. As for his dam, Spectacular by Promised Land, she was a female line descendant of Fly by Night II, whose stakes winning daughter Flying Witch produced two champions in the 1920's. Closer relatives included To Market, a successful son of 1941 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Market Wise, and the classic winner Head Play.

So, while Spectacular Bid wasn't bred like Buckpasser, the potential for quality was there. He was a bargain as a $37,000 yearling. He wouldn't have won a conformation class, but the gray son of Bold Bidder was poetry in motion when he was aimed at the finish line.


The key to The Bid's success was his versatility. He couldn't be beaten by running a rabbit to burn him out early, since he was comfortable as a closer. Yet one couldn't dash into the lead and slow the pace to steal the race either, since the gray was equally capable of winning on the lead.

Bred by Mrs. William Jason and Mrs. William Gilmore, Spectacular Bid was foaled on February 17, 1976. Throughout his career he was groomed by Charlie Bettis. He was trained by Grover "Buddy" Delp, and carrying the colors of Hawksworth Farm he went to post for the first time on June 30, 1978. Ronnie Franklin, an apprentice at the time, rode him to an easy wire to wire victory at five and a half furlongs. Next time out, he broke the track record at the same distance, with eight lengths of daylight behind him.

The Bid next ran out of the money for what would be the only time in his career, finishing a fast closing fourth in the Tyro Stakes at Monmouth. He also closed fast but ran out of ground at Delaware Park, finishing second in the six furlong Dover Stakes.

He didn't run out of ground in Atlantic City. Spectacular Bid took the World's Playground Stakes by fifteen lengths and covered the seven furlongs in a stunning 1:20 4/5.

The leading two-year-old in the country was General Assembly, a stunning chestnut colt with a pedigree of gold. He was by Secretariat, who should need no introduction, and out of the great Native Dancer's daughter Exclusive Dancer. She was out of Exclusive, and was therefore a half sister to Exclusive Native, who was best known as the sire of Affirmed. General Assembly had the Saratoga Special and the Hopeful Stakes to his credit.

General Assembly

John Velasquez substituted for Ronnie Franklin when Spectacular Bid and General Assembly met in the Champagne Stakes. The gray led from the beginning, beating the chestnut son of Secretariat by two and three-quarter lengths in the impressive time of 1:34 4/5.

Now established as the reigning prince of his division, Spectacular Bid went to the Meadowlands and proved his gameness by winning the Young America Stakes by a neck despite being checked at the head of the stretch. John Velasquez was again in the saddle.

Ronnie Frankel returned as the Bid's regular rider in the Laurel Futurity. The previous year that race had been a hard fought duel between Affirmed and Alydar, but this year it was a romp, with The Bid winning by eight and a half lengths and lowering the track record to 1:41 3/5 for the mile and a sixteenth.

This is what eight and a half lengths looks like.  Spectacular Bid wins the Laurel Futurity

Finally, he visited Keystone and cantered to a six length win in the Heritage Stakes. Spectacular Bid was named Champion Two Year Old Colt. In a quieter year than 1978 he might have been Horse of the Year as well.

Spectacular Bid at two

The star wintered in Florida, and began his sophomore campaign by taking the Hutcheson Stakes by three and three-quarter lengths. His time of 1:21 2/5 for the seven furlongs was made even more impressive by the ease he displayed in winning.

Next it was the Fountain of Youth, which Spectacular Bid won by eight and a half lengths. He covered the mile and a sixteenth in 1:41 1/5 even without the need to hurry.

When young Franklin temporarily forgot how to ride a race, Spectacular Bid overcame being checked four times to win the Florida Derby by four and a half lengths. Having been four wide on the turn may explain why the Bid for once failed to break any records.

Buddy Delp wasn't shy about his colt's upcoming Kentucky Derby chances:

"Only an act of God can stop us from winning the Triple Crown. This is the best racehorse ever to look through a bridle."

Spectacular Bid next won the Flamingo Stakes, coasting home twelve lengths in front even while conceding weight to the runner up. When he arrived in Kentucky he turned in a similar performance at Keeneland, winning the Blue Grass Stakes by seven lengths.

While Spectacular Bid was dominating his rivals in Florida, Flying Paster was the leader on the west coast. He had won the Norfolk Stakes at the close of his juvenile career, and at three he won the Santa Anita Derby. He was expected to be Spectacular Bid's nearest rival at Churchill Downs. Also in the field of ten were General Assembly, who had won the Gotham Stakes in New York, and Arkansas Derby winner Golden Act.

In the Kentucky Derby, Spectacular Bid took command in the backstretch and was never seriously challenged. He beat General Assembly by two and three-quarter lengths, with Golden Act another three lengths back. Flying Paster was out of the money.

Two weeks later Spectacular Bid took the Preakness by five and a half lengths. His time of 1:54 1/5 was just shy of the track record, but was faster than the times of Affirmed and Seattle Slew, as well as Secretariat's official time.

Spectacular Bid had the Triple Crown within his sights. The morning of the Belmont trainer Buddy Delp learned that his charge had stepped on a loose safety pin. He considered scratching, but the horse wasn't lame. Denying him a chance at the Triple Crown, and the status that went with it, seemed drastic.

The real mistake came when Delp told Ronnie Franklin about the safety pin. The news wouldn't have bothered a cool headed veteran like Bill Shoemaker or Eddie Maple, but it rattled the teenage Franklin. First he punched Angel Cordero in the jockey's room. Then he sent his mount after the lead far too early. It was a mistake that the Bid had overcome before, but in the mile and a half Belmont Stakes it was a catastrophic error. Spectacular Bid was sore enough on the pinpricked foot that he favored it, running the entire distance on one lead. Anything short of a perfectly rated ride would have left him vulnerable in the stretch.

Perhaps if the field had not contained anything of true quality the triple crown bid would still have been salvaged. But Coastal was a horse of uncommon class. Sired by Majestic Prince, who had been denied a Triple Crown by Arts and Letters in 1969, and out Alluvial, an unraced daughter of the great Buckpasser and the champion mare Bayou, he was bred to go a mile and a half against the best of his generation.

Coastal had just won the Peter Pan Stakes by twelve lengths, prompting owner William Haggin Perry to pay for a rather expensive supplemental nomination to the Belmont Stakes. He proved the money well spent when he caught Spectacular Bid on the far turn.

Unable to withstand the closing drive of the classically bred Coastal, Spectacular Bid faded to third, a neck behind Preakness runner-up Golden Act.

As if the disappointment of the Belmont Stakes loss wasn't harsh enough for Spectacular Bid's connections, they soon learned that the safety pin had caused an infection serious enough to threaten his life. The hoof had to be drilled, and the Bid was out of action for a while.

In his absence, General Assembly won the Travers Stakes and the Vosburgh Stakes, Coastal won the Dwyer Stakes and the Monmouth Invitational, and Golden Act won the Secretariat Stakes.

When Spectacular Bid returned to the races at the end of August, he had a new rider; the cool headed veteran Bill Shoemaker.

To make obvious his complete recovery, Spectacular Bid galloped home seventeen lengths ahead of an allowance field at Delaware, breaking the track record in the process.

He next met General Assembly and Coastal in the Marlboro Cup, and reestablished his authority with a five length win before missing more racing with a fever.

The field for the 1979 Jockey Club Gold Cup was one of the finest ever assembled, which is no small compliment. The previous year the great Exceller had nosed out Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew while Triple Crown winner Affirmed ran out of the money for the only time in his career. In the 1950 edition Hill Prince claimed Horse of the Year honors by beating Noor. In 1959 Sword Dancer beat Round Table. Kelso won five times. Time and time again, the outcome of the Jockey Club Gold Cup decided Horse of the Year honors.

In 1979, they called it the Race of the Century, a term which hadn't been used all year. Affirmed had just won six straight, and Spectacular Bid had only the Belmont Stakes to mar his record. Coastal had just run second to Affirmed in the Woodward Stakes.

Spectacular Bid wasn't the winner that day, but he displayed a rare courage. He tried to get by Affirmed with four separate runs. If a horse makes two strong moves in a race, he is praised. The Bid tried to get by the great Affirmed four times. That he couldn't is no black mark on his record, but is only a testament to both his own courage and Affirmed's ability.

Coastal had made his own run at Affirmed, with no success, before the two three-year-olds were left to fight it out for second money. Spectacular Bid made his final run, beat Coastal by three lengths, a gamely kept trying to get at Affirmed. He couldn't get closer than three-quarters of a length. The Bid's game second locked up the divisional title if not Horse of the Year.

After galloping away from American Derby winner Smarten to break the track record in the Meadowlands Cup, Spectacular Bid was retired for the season. His earnings of $1,279,334 made him the season's leading money winner, and he was named Champion Three Year Old Colt. Affirmed was Horse of the Year.

Spectacular Bid started his four-year-old campaign early, winning the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on January 5, 1980. He beat Flying Paster by five lengths and covered the seven furlongs in 1:20.

Only four horses went to post for the San Fernando Stakes. Flying Paster was back for another shot at the Bid, and Del Mar Derby winner Relaunch gave it a try as well. Spectacular Bid quickly took command and beat Flying Paster by a length and a half. Relaunch was another fifteen lengths back. The fourth place finisher, now a member of the witness relocation program, was beaten an additional thirty-three lengths.

Flying Paster didn't throw in the towel, however, and somehow Santa Anita track management scared up another two starters so Spectacular Bid wouldn't be lonely in the Charles H. Strub Stakes.

The Hawksworth Farm horse put on a show not soon forgotten. Not only did he beat Flying Paster by three and a half lengths, with Valdez another nine lengths back, but he broke the world record for a mile and a quarter, covering the distance in a remarkable 1:57 4/5.

When he went to post for the Santa Anita Handicap, Spectacular Bid was assigned 130 pounds. He made the burden seem insignificant, again beating Flying Paster with little difficultly. He won by five lengths, although the sloppy track kept him from setting a track record for the only time that year. He still covered the mile and a quarter in a speedy 2:00 3/5.

The weight assignment grew to 132 pounds for the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park in May, but the results differed little. Spectacular Bid drew off to win by seven lengths. His time for the mile and a sixteenth? 1:40 2/5.

Next it was the Californian Stakes. Spectacular Bid ran off to win by four and a quarter lengths, covering the mile and an eighth in 1:45 4/5. He had once again carried 130 pounds.

The Washington Park Handicap was another runaway victory. Giving nineteen pounds to his nearest rival, The Bid drew off to win by ten lengths. Arlington's new track record for a mile and an eighth was 1:46 1/5.

A month later it was the Haskell at Monmouth Park. A bit of a slow start could do little to stop Spectacular Bid. Neither could the 132 pound weight assignment. He won as he pleased, beating the champion handicap mare Glorious Song by a length and three quarters.

None dared opposed The Bid in the Woodward Stakes, which was weight for age. He went to post alone for a rare walkover. Sadly, a sesamoid injury flared up after the exhibition, and it proved to be Spectacular Bid's final race. He was named 1980 Horse of the Year and Champion Older Horse. He held a world record, seven track records, and career earnings of $2,781,608 which made him the new all-time leading money winner. He had won at distances ranging from five and a half furlongs to a mile and a quarter, and carried 130 pounds or more five times. He was unbeaten at four. Triple Crown or not, he had cemented his place in history. At stud, Spectacular Bid has sired forty-four stakes winners, but he hasn't yet sired anything brilliant, and therefore is considered something of a disappointment. He may yet prove better as a broodmare sire.

Spectacular Bid passed away in June of 2003, at the Milfer Farm in Unadilla, New York, where he last stood stud. Elected into the Hall of Fame in 1982, Spectacular Bid was ranked an impressive tenth on the poll published by Blood-Horse at the close of the century.

Spectacular Bid's Race Record

Year Starts Wins Seconds Thirds Earnings
Lifetime 30 26 2 1 $2,781,608

Spectacular Bid, 1976 gray colt

Bold Bidder Bold Ruler Nasrullah Nearco
Mumtaz Begum
Miss Disco Discovery
High Bid To Market Market Wise
Pretty Does
Stepping Stone Princequillo
Step Across
Spectacular Promised Land Palestinian Sun Again
Dolly Whisk
Mahmoudess Mahmoud
Forever Yours
Stop on Red To Market Market Wise
Pretty Does
Danger Ahead Head Play
Lady Beware

For more information read Spectacular Bid by Timothy T. Capps.


Recommended titles include: Champions from the Daily Racing Form, Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 of the 20th Century from Blood-Horse, and Man O' War: Thoroughbred Legends #1 by Edward L. Bowen, as well as Seabiscuit on DVD .
Seabiscuit DVD

Spectacular Bid Music Video by Carly Kaiser

Video by Carly Kaiser


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