05/31/2012 12:38PM

Triple Crown near-misses: Spectacular Bid, 1979

Email

Spectacular Bid should have lost the 1979 Florida Derby after a weird, wide trip, but he didn’t. He could have lost the 1980 Strub Stakes when Flying Paster ran the race of his life, but he didn’t. And if he’d made one mistake in the 1980 Haskell Handicap he would have lost to champion mare Glorious Song. But he didn’t.

It took a lot to beat Spectacular Bid. In a run of 26 races, from the end of his 2-year-old season to the fall at age 4, he lost just twice – by three-quarters of a length to the older Affirmed in the 1979 Jockey Club Cold Cup and in the 1979 Belmont Stakes, with the Triple Crown on the line.

Which is why it remains farfetched to this day to believe that the penetration of a safety pin into the frog of a hoof on the morning of the race may have compromised such a winning machine, as was suggested later by Spectacular Bid’s trainer, Bud Delp. Anyway, it was impossible to test Delp’s thesis, even in retrospect, since his 19-year-old jockey, Ronnie Franklin, insisted on sending Spectacular Bid running freely down the Belmont backstretch after longshot Gallant Best before fading to third behind victorious Coastal.

Depending on when you asked, Delp had a variety of answers for the defeat. In the immediate aftermath of the race, as reported by William Leggett in Sports Illustrated, Delp said, “Ronnie rode him good. . . . The horse just ran out of gas.”

Delp was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002 and died in 2006, but not before he trotted out a few more versions of what happened in the 1979 Belmont to the colt he liked to call “the best horse who ever looked through a bridle.”

“He was going to win by as far as a country boy could throw a rock,” Delp said. “And he should have won anyway. I hurt him by running him and Ronnie Franklin hurt him the way he rode him.”

Triple Crown near-misses

Spectacular Bid (1979) Pleasant Colony (1981) Alysheba (1987) Sunday Silence (1989)
Silver Charm (1997) Real Quiet (1998) Charismatic (1999) War Emblem (2002)
Funny Cide (2003) Smarty Jones (2004) Big Brown (2008)