05/31/2012 1:38PM

Triple Crown near-misses: Spectacular Bid, 1979


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)  


Greg Campbell 11 days ago
I'm Bud's cousin and I believe it was Ronnie who make mistakes that day. Safety pin or not .
HalkidesChris 8 months ago
Whether it was a safety pin, or Ronnie Franklin, or whatever, he came up short in the Belmont, but it does not detract from his other  achievements.  Spectacular Bid was the probably the best four year old ever.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had Steve Cauthens agent taken the mount in the Young American stakes at the meadowlands he might have been the first rider to ride back to back triple crowns
B More than 1 year ago
Ronnie Franklin was a mediocre jockey who got lucky by getting this awesome mount early in his career before they knew what they had and kept riding him through the Triple Crown due to the faithfulness of his connections and because he kept winning, but he would have won the same races with just about any jock due to his talent. While I certainly admire being faithful, if ever there were a time to get a more experienced and capable jock, this was it. His ride in the Belmont was one of the worst I have seen in a Triple Crown race ever, if not the very worst. He simply thought he could not get beat and ran him like a freight train until he weakened to a lesser, though talented colt, named Coastal. As an aside and a curious note, please note that the only two times Spectacular Bid lost after his two year old season were the only times he tried a mile and a half and both were at Belmont and at the end of his career, his final race was supposed to be his second shot at the Jockey Club Gold Cup (one of his two 1 1/2 losses the previous year), but was scratched. I think by that point, they also feared the distance, particularly on this racetrack.
Brian Taylor More than 1 year ago
Spectacular Bid lost the Belmont because Ronnie Franklin whipped him like a maniac 3 weeks earlier before his hometown buddies in Maryland. There was no reason to use him so hard to win by 7 in the Preakness,when a handy,energy saving 2 length victory would have sufficed.(see Turcotte:1973) Had Delp put a better,cooler headed,more mature rider aboard we would now have a dozen TC Winners
Tom Hua More than 1 year ago
Agree. Good reasoning. It is so true and darn true.