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Spectacular Bid's 25th birthday - February 17, 2001
There's a quote in the movie Meet Joe Black that gets me every time. Anthony Hopkins, when giving a speech on his birthday, says, almost more as a statement than a question: "65 years. Don't they go by in a blink?"
It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed since Spectacular Bid turned 25 and even harder to believe he was born 35 years ago. Some of my friends weren’t alive yet when 'The Bid' retired from racing. I was in college.
By the time I presented a cake to Spectacular Bid on February 17, 2001 - in celebration of his quarter-century - my college years were a distant memory. The grey stallion's racing days were the same. He lived at Milfer Farm in New York and, there, he still attracted some mares and adoring fans. It was a long way from his glory days but, oh, what glory days!
Many consider him the last truly great American racehorse. Some consider him the best they have ever seen, myself included. Young fans have never seen anything like him - nor are they likely to.
Spectacular Bid's trainer, Grover 'Buddy' Delp, called his charge “the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle." The steel-grey colt did his best to live up to the moniker. Consider these stats: Spectacular Bid won 26 of 30 starts, including 23 stakes races (13 Grade Is). He set or equalled eight track records, broke a 30-year-old world record for 1 1/4 miles (1:57 4/5) and toted 130 or more pounds five times. He won from New York to California at distances from 5 1/2 furlongs to a mile and a quarter. He was the champion 2-year-old, champion 3-year-old, and at 4 he was the Horse of the Year and champion older horse. Spectacular Bid finished his career in singularly beautiful style with a walkover in the 1980 Woodward.
Three of his four losses could be attributed to either inexperience (two races at 2) or a bad ride and an infamous safety pin incident (1979 Belmont Stakes). The fourth? Blame the Triple Crown winner Affirmed, one year Bid’s elder, for proving superior on 1979 Jockey Club Gold Cup day.
If money talked, The Bid prompted screams. He earned a then-record $2,781,608 on the track and was syndicated for a then-record $22 million for stud.
In other words, he really earned his birthday cake.
Not that he cared for it. The 25-year-old, his coat still heavily flecked with black, grey and chestnut spots, snuffed at the cake for a moment and whisked up a few carrot ‘candles’ - ignoring the bran cake, sugar frosting and peppermint garnishes. Manager Joel Reach and his son Justin gently pushed the cake toward the champion and guided his soft grey nose toward the goal…but no dice. Bid realized I was no cook.
Perhaps he was just too chilled to eat. While it was comfortable in his barn, the wind chill outside was about ten below. Although he had dried from a light sponge bath, he shivered a time or two.
With that photo op clearly over, and weather so cold it was uncomfortable, it didn't seem fair to ask for too much. Justin must have wanted to slap me when I asked him to lead Bid out for a conformation shot, but he gamely obliged.
I wanted to record what the great racehorse looked like at 25. He was grand. His right front ankle, fused for years, didn’t match his left, but his body provided few hints of his age – no evident ribs, sunken features or swayed back. His winter coat wasn't unusually thick for an older horse, and only the coat's color reflected his age - the once near-black colt was now a light grey stallion.
Bid knew that he was ‘all that’ and his patience sometimes had limits. He could nip or send out gentle warnings that he was a powerful stallion. But on this miserably cold winter's day in New York, with crunching snow underfoot and biting winds shifting his gold-traced mane and tail, Spectacular Bid stood patiently and proudly.
Spectacular Bid died two years later of a heart attack, on June 9, 2003, and he was buried near his Milfer Farm barn. The other titans of his era – Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed – had died before him. There has been no successor.
I remember February 17, 2001, as if it were last week rather than ten years ago. And it has been nearly eight years since Spectacular Bid's death. Haven’t they gone by in a blink.
this article brings to mind another great that could win short as well as long---Turkoman---he set two records in one hialeah meet while winning 2 stakes---6 and 10 furlongs---who can match that besides the bid?
AWWWWW!! This was such a great tribute to SB. Just gotta love those greats!! This was a wonderful article with beautiful pictures taken by B. Livingston.
was at his derby and he just cruised past them all with ease and no more need be said
Awesome article on The Bid. This horse could do it all. Ending his career with a walkover speaks volumes . Long live his legacy
You know Barbara, and I really mean that you of all people really does know. I, like most people, had gotten away from the very concept of The Best I Ever Saw. Most people with their head in the form just want to cash a ticket on the next race. And there is nothing wrong with that. Everyone loves to cash. And I can't disagree with your assessment that The Bid was the best you ever saw. I was lucky enough to see Slews last race, and Affirmed in the Derby, Travers and Belmont. Now that has always held The Greatest Race I Ever Saw mantle for me. And I saw The Bid win a Florida Derby – run on a Tuesday (don't ask why) – and then the Flamingo where I got to met him up close and personal. Seems I was waiting on a friend at the walking ring and, what with the trophy presentation, The Bid was late returning from the track. As I watched him approach me, and realized he was focused on me, he suddenly saw horses coming out for the last race of the day. Well, he snorted on me, powerfully and with some commotion, and one couldn't help feeling that he just wanted to beat horses no matter when or where. Plans were instantly hatched to attend another Derby as I had my horse. And yet I had lost that Greatest Ever feel – until seeing your photo essay. He certainly is the Greatest that ever breathed on me. And he made the Derby worth the trip. Greatest ever to have not won the Triple? Others can lay claim to next best. All those track records have a nice ring to them, as well. And as an aside – Meet Joe Black was partially filmed at the Aldrich Mansion in Rhode Island on the west side of Narragansett Bay. As a movie it disappointed, but you nailed the best line there within. Maybe that's why I try not to blink. tyb >
Thank you very much for this wonderful article and pictures. I don't know where The Bid stacks up against all-time great North American horses (I personally rank him #2 behind Secretariat) but I know he was the last truly special all-time great we have seen. What a horse. Thank you again.
H Yes..The "Bid" was in a class all by himself...He always took my breath away when he ran...He made it look so easy...Yes...aint it funny...how time slips away !!
What an amazing horse he was. Imagine what his potential could have been if Shoe had been his rider from day 1. I was working the east coast circuit at the time, and it was so exciting to follow him on his Triple Crown trail. And it is spectacular to share a birthday with him!
Great comment on a truly great horse,I was working whit Leroy Jolley who send a very good horse General Assambly to run in the Laurel Futurity,when we at the barn call the secretary office for the results got a loud Spectacular Bid and from then on racing found a champion a super horse great to look at him and a hero to the fans. was he the best probably not but he was one of then that for sure. Mauricio Farias.
Thanks for the pictures. I had the privilege of working for Buddy Delp for a while, and he always talked about "Bid". I'm too young to remember him running, so it's nice to see what a fantastic specimen he was.