Updated on 09/17/2011 11:42AM

Spectacular Bid, 27, dead

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Thoroughbred Memories
Spectacular Bid sets a track record of 1:57 4/5 for 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita winning the 1980 Strub Stakes under Bill Shoemaker. The 1980 Horse of the Year died of an apparent heart attack on Monday at the age of 27.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Spectacular Bid, victorious in two-thirds of the 1979 Triple Crown before stepping on a safety pin and then losing the Belmont Stakes, died Monday afternoon at Dr. Jonathan Davis's Milfer Farm in Unadilla, N.Y. A 27-year-old Bold Bidder stallion, he died apparently of a heart attack.

His death came just two days after the popular New York-bred Funny Cide became the eighth horse since Spectacular Bid to fail in the Belmont after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

, the nation's 2-year-old champion of 1978, earned the title of champion 3-year-old after his victories in the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. But many felt he should have earned Triple Crown immortality.

Spectacular Bid, a steel-gray colt known affectionately by his connections and the public simply as "Bid," showed his talent early to trainer Grover "Bud" Delp, who trained the colt for Harry, Teresa, and Tom Meyerhoff's Hawksworth Farm. Bred in Kentucky by Mrs. Madelyn Jason and her mother, Mrs. Grace Gilmore, he sold at Keeneland September for $37,000.

"Before he ever ran, he worked a half-mile in 46 seconds out of the gate," Delp recalled. Apprentice Ronnie Franklin was aboard for the work, Delp said, "and he came back and said, 'Boss, I feel like I have two horses under me.' "

Bid won his initial start by 3 1/4 lengths. He followed up with an eighth-length allowance win, then after two losses put together a championship skein that included wins in the Grade 3 World's Playground, the Grade 1 Champagne, Grade 1 Young America, Grade 1 Laurel Futurity, and Grade 2 Heritage Stakes.

He opened the 1979 season with a 3 3/4-length victory in Gulfstream's Hutcheson, and dominated his rivals for the rest of the spring, winning the Fountain of Youth by 8 1/2 lengths, the Florida Derby by 4 1/2, the Flamingo Stakes by 12, and the Blue Grass Stakes by seven.

In the Derby, the tale was much the same. Sent off as the prohibitive favorite, Spectacular Bid settled behind horses early, then blew by the leaders. His winning margin over pacesetting General Assembly was 2 3/4. In the Preakness, he cruised past his rivals to beat Golden Act by 5 1/2. Delp famously called Bid "the best horse ever to look through a bridle." And jockey Franklin, then just 19, was so sure of his colt's turn of foot that he was known to place Spectacular Bid well to the outside during races, a tactic that helped ensure a clear path to the wire but that also gave ground away - ground Franklin was certain he could make up easily in the stretch.

But on Belmont Day, with the crowd expecting Spectacular Bid to be crowned the 12th Triple Crown winner, the coronation was interrupted by 4-1 Coastal. Spectacular Bid finished third, behind runner-up Golden Act, and was booed by his disappointed fans, who had wanted to him to follow Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978) on the decade's glittering list of Triple Crown winners.

Belmont Day began with a strange incident that might have cost Spectacular Bid the race. Saturday morning, just hours before the race, Delp found Spectacular Bid lame in his stall. Picking up the colt's foot, he found a safety pin stuck in it. Delp removed the pin and the colt immediately walked sound, apparently no worse for the wear. But after the Belmont result, some were left wondering whether the pin had caused a problem. Others publicly questioned whether the pin had simply been a handy, and possibly fictitious, excuse.

"What are the chances of having a pin go into his foot?" Buddy Delp said Tuesday, recalling the incident. "It's about the same as winning the lottery. I didn't worry about all that stuff in the press."

Spectacular Bid took a short rest after the Belmont, then returned to cement his 3-year-old title. He scored a 17-length victory in an allowance with his new rider Bill Shoemaker, then took the Marlboro Cup by five over older horses. Beaten into second by Affirmed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, one of the season's most hyped events, he rebounded with a three-length win in the Meadowlands Cup, again over older males.

At 4, Spectacular Bid developed into the best horse of the 1980's. He went undefeated in nine starts, winning the Malibu, San Fernando, Strub, Santa Anita Handicap, Mervyn LeRoy, Californian, Washington Park, and Haskell by daylight margins.

Spectacular Bid so dominated his division that he was able to score a Grade 1 win in a walkover when the Woodward's other entrants - Temperence Hill, Winter's Tale, and Dr. Patches - scratched, letting him leave the gate unopposed.

His 1980 season made his older-horse and Horse of the Year championships a formality. Spectacular Bid retired after that perfect season as one of racing's most celebrated stars. Standing first at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., and then at Milfer since 1992, Spectacular Bid proved a useful stallion but did not duplicate himself. From 20 crops to race so far, he has progeny earnings of more than $21 million. The best of his runners include Grade 1 winner Spectacular Love; multiple graded stakes winner Lay Down; and Grade 2 winners Marquette, Festivity, Bite the Bullet, Shepherd's Field, and Spectacular Sue.

He was still an active stallion at Milfer at his death, standing for a 2003 fee of $3,500. He will be buried at the farm.

"Of course I felt sad, but at the same time I felt joy, too," Delp said on hearing news of the great horse's death. "He lived to be 27, and he had a good life. I'm always going to think about him the way I remember him. That's as I saw him for three years on the racetrack. I'm not going to think of him being dead and buried and gone.

"I always said he was the greatest horse to look through a bridle. I said it before the Florida Derby, and I think he pretty much proved it. . . . On Bid's best day and everybody else's best day, Bid would've gotten my money."

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh.