06/11/2003 11:00PM

Bid's breeder remembers the ride


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The death this week of 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid brought back a flood of memories for Mrs. Madelyn Jason of Atherton, Calif. Mrs. Jason bred Spectacular Bid, a champion in each of his three seasons and the 1980 Horse of the Year, in partnership with her mother, Mrs. William Gilmore, from a modest California-bred mare.

Spectacular Bid's dam, a Promised Land filly named Spectacular, was a track-record holder at Pleasanton, where she had won a six-furlong race in 1:09.20, one day after her full brother Go to Goal set a 5 1/2-furlong track record at Pleasanton in 1:02.40. But Spectacular was an inconsistent performer, Jason recalled, and earned just $16,633.

"She broke that track record, but on other days she'd just kind of gallop along," Jason said. "I wanted to breed her to somebody with desire, somebody who wanted to win, and that was Bold Bidder. She had good bone and a long back, so I was looking for a stallion that was short-coupled, and Bold Bidder was that, too."

Working through Lexington bloodstock agent Vic Heerman, Jason and Gilmore bought a Bold Bidder season from John Hanes for, as Jason remembers it, about $25,000.

California breeders were perplexed that Jason and her mother would send their mare out of state and opined that they were overbreeding Spectacular by sending her to a horse as expensive as Bold Bidder. But Jason and Gilmore had confidence in their Cal-bred mare, and they wanted to give her the best possible chance.

"One of the reasons we were so high on Spectacular was because we had owned her dam, Stop on Red," Jason said. "Stop on Red was a twin. The other filly was named Go on Green, and both were stakes winners. We bought Stop on Red and liked the fact that she was a twin, because I knew she had to have a lot of stamina to have made it."

Spectacular Bid was born at Buck Pond Farm near Versailles, Ky., and Jason figured the circumstances of his birth might also have contribute to his hardiness.

"Spectacular foaled out in the pasture, and they were a little embarrassed to tell me that, but I told them I thought that would make him even stronger," she said.

Spectacular Bid, like most grays, was born dark and lightened with age, and this created some early confusion.

"The first bill I got from the farm was for a brown colt," Jason recalled. "The second bill was for a bay colt. The third one was for a roan colt. Finally I called the farm and asked whether the mare had had triplets."

But when she finally saw Spectacular Bid as a weanling, Jason was pleased with what she and her mother had gotten from Spectacular's first mating. Keeneland was less impressed and rejected him for the July sale, suggesting Jason put him in the September auction instead.

"I think they felt his dam's pedigree was on the weak side," Jason said. "They never really gave me a reason, and I never pressed them. But I was disappointed, of course I was. I thought he was perfect."

Bid turned out to be almost perfect on the racetrack. A 2-year-old champion, he went on to win the Derby and Preakness en route to his 1979 title. In 1980, he was perfect, winning all nine of his starts, including five Grade 1 races. In one of those, the Strub Stakes, he set a world record of 1:57.80 for 1 1/4 miles. In another, the Woodward, he won in a walkover.

All of which gave Madelyn Jason more than she bargained for with Spectacular. She privately sold a half-interest in the mare to Robert Sangster, who shipped her to Coolmore in Ireland. The mare never produced anything like Spectacular Bid again, and in fact he remains her only stakes winner. Eventually, when Spectacular began to have trouble conceiving, Sangster offered to return her to Jason. The mare died in retirement at a farm in Julian, Calif., in the hills above San Diego. Now that Bid is also gone, Madelyn Jason has only the memories, but what good ones they are.

"When you see your baby come across the line first in the Kentucky Derby, well, it's a thrill," she said. "This was my great passion, and so it was tremendous fun to have such a success in something you love that much."