12/31/2006 12:00AM

Bud Delp, trainer of Spectacular Bid, dies

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Grover G. "Bud" Delp, whose work as the trainer of Spectacular Bid led to his election to racing's Hall of Fame, died Friday night at his home in Ellicott City, Md., after suffering from cancer. He was 74.

Delp trained 70 stakes winners and won 3,674 races, ninth on the all-time list, for earnings of nearly $41 million during a training career that began at Laurel Park in the fall of 1962. Although he was successful in Maryland and other nearby states, he did not achieve national prominence until Spectacular Bid took the racing world by storm during a three-year period (1978-80) in which the colt won 26 of 30 races and became one of racing's all-time greats.

Delp became known as a racetrack character who frequently and famously boasted that Spectacular Bid was "the best horse that ever looked through a bridle."

Spectacular Bid, owned by the Hawksworth Farm of Harry and Tom Meyerhoff, did his best to back up that audacious claim. He was a divisional champion every year he raced: as a 2-year-old of 1978, a 3-year-old 1979, and as older horse in 1980, when he was voted Horse of the Year after going unbeaten in all of his nine starts. Delp often said the colt's greatest victory came in the 1979 Kentucky Derby.

Five weeks after the Derby, "Bid" was defeated as the heavy favorite in the Belmont Stakes when trying for a sweep of the Triple Crown. Delp sparked a huge controversy when he claimed afterward that Spectacular Bid had been compromised because he had stepped on a safety pin in his stall before the race.

Delp was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002. Spectacular Bid, who died in June 2003, was elected to the Hall in 1982.

Delp was one of the "Big Four" trainers who dominated the Maryland circuit in the 1970's and 1980's. Two of the others, Richard Dutrow Sr. and John Tammaro, have died, leaving King Leatherbury, 73, as the lone survivor.

"I'm shocked with Bud's death," said Leatherbury, one of only three trainers to win more than 6,000 races. "After a while, he wasn't much of a rival - more of a friend. He actually was kind of an idol of mine. I honestly thought he was a super horse trainer."

In 2004, as part of a 25-year anniversary celebration of Spectacular Bid's Kentucky Derby victory, Delp was invited by Churchill Downs on the Sunday before the Derby to participate in autograph and interview sessions. He and Ronnie Franklin, who rode Spectacular Bid during the Triple Crown, flew to Louisville together from Maryland. Delp said they "talked about old times" on the plane ride to Kentucky.

"Ronnie said, 'I'd like to do that again,' and I said, 'I'd like to do it, too,' " Delp said. "The three years I spent with Bid were the greatest years of my life in racing."

Delp, an Army veteran, was an active trainer until his death. Based at Laurel, he won 22 races from 134 starters this year.

Delp's body was cremated, and there will be no memorial service.

Delp is survived by his wife, Regina, three sons, one daughter, and two grandsons.