03/08/2018 4:16PM

Ronnie Franklin, rode Spectacular Bid to wins in Kentucky Derby and Preakness, dies at 58

Photography, Inc.
Spectacular Bid, with Ronnie Franklin up, wins the 1979 Kentucky Derby.

Ronnie Franklin, the star-crossed jockey who won the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness at age 19 aboard Spectacular Bid, died of lung cancer Thursday. His death at age 58 was confirmed by his nephew, former rider Walter Cullum.

Although Franklin hadn’t ridden in a race since 1992, Cullum said his uncle in the last 10 years had galloped horses at a Maryland farm and at the Folsom Training Center in Louisiana.

Franklin’s name will always be tied to that of the late trainer Buddy Delp and his two classic wins with Spectacular Bid. But he also will be remembered for The Bid’s loss in the Belmont Stakes and his arrest for cocaine possession in the Disneyland parking lot nine days later.

At age 16, Franklin dropped out of high school in Dundalk, Md., and went to the racetrack seeking work. Delp hired him.

He won with his first career mount for Delp at Bowie Race Course in February 1978 and went on to be the leading rider at Pimlico. When the 2-year-old Spectacular Bid was ready to make his debut that June, Delp gave the mount to Franklin and they won by 3 1/4 lengths.

Spectacular Bid won 7 of 9 races at 2 and was named division champion. Franklin was honored with an Eclipse Award as the year's leading apprentice rider.

With Franklin aboard, Spectacular Bid began his 3-year-old campaign with wins in the Hutcheson, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, Flamingo, and Blue Grass Stakes.

In the Derby, Spectacular Bid made a wide move around General Assembly and Flying Paster on the far turn and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Two weeks later, Spectacular Bid rolled home by 5 1/2 lengths in the Preakness after Franklin sent him to the lead three furlongs from the finish.

Spectacular Bid was bet down to 3-10 in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. He took the lead from longshot Gallant Best midway down the backstretch through quick splits and then tired to finish third behind Coastal and Golden Act.

Many blamed Franklin’s early move for the defeat, including Delp, who said that Spectacular Bid had stepped on a safety pin in his stall that morning and punctured his foot, which also may have factored into his performance.

Franklin rode Spectacular Bid in 15 of his first 17 races, but following the Belmont he was replaced by Bill Shoemaker, who rode the Hall of Famer in his final 13 starts.

Franklin had a number of drug offenses over the years, and his jockey license was taken away by the Maryland Racing Commission in 1992. His requests to be reinstated were denied in 1996 and 2007.

He won 1,403 races from 9,242 starts and had mount earnings of more than $14 million.

Cullum, his nephew, became a jockey because of Franklin.

“I was 5 when he won the Derby and the Preakness,” Cullum said. “He was my childhood hero, my idol.”

Delp at times referred to Ronnie as his “third son.” They attended the 2004 Kentucky Derby together and signed Spectacular Bid bobbleheads on the 25th anniversary of his Derby victory. At the time, Franklin was working in construction.

The youngest of six children, Franklin is survived by his mother, Marian, one brother, and four sisters. Franklin's girlfriend Cia was on hand with family members Thursday. A private service is planned.