Last Saturday afternoon at Pimlico following Spectacular Bid's 5½-length victory in the Preakness, one could almost hear the flapping of wings as the last of the colt's detractors took off for parts unknown.
Bid ran his best race yet. By picking up first money of $165,300, he pushed his bankroll over $1 million to become the youngest millionaire in racing history, and he ran the mile and [3/16]ths in 1:54⅕ the second-fastest time in a race that is 104 years old. Appearing to toy with four opponents, Spectacular Bid rolled easily to the finish line to a tremendous ovation from his owners' neighbors in Baltimore, where this handsome gray colt has now become as much of a hero as Brooks Robinson, John Unitas and the blue crab. With the first two legs tucked away, Spectacular Bid must now be considered odds-on to become the third Triple Crown winner in the past three years. On June 9, he will try to complete the sweep in the Belmont Stakes.
The main question about that race is how many opponents the New York Racing Association can muster to run against him. There won't be a bunch. An hour after the Preakness, LeRoy Jolley, the trainer of fifth-place finisher General Assembly, reflected on what he had witnessed. "There were times when I had doubts about Spectacular Bid," he said. "No more. My horse couldn't have beaten him if he had cut through the infield. I've had enough of running against Spectacular Bid for a while. So has the General. Spectacular Bid's Preakness was just plain outstanding from any point of view. I'm a believer."
Bid's time was only [1/5]th of a second slower than Canonero IIs record of 1:54, which was set on a lightning-fast track. Last Saturday the Pimlico strip was listed only as "good." Spectacular Bid also gave up large chunks of ground by going wide for much of the race.
Unlike Jolley, Marylanders believed in Bid all along, and sent him off at 1 to 10. His winning price of $2.20 was the smallest since Citation won the Preakness on his way to the 1948 Triple. Many of the lower-priced tickets purchased on Spectacular Bid will never be cashed; Marylanders will keep them for souvenirs.
It's normal during the two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness for new challengers to surface. This year, however, none did, and the five horses that went to the starting gate at Pimlico made the 1979 field the smallest in 31 years—again, since Citation's Preakness. Yet the four other starters had excellent records, having been in the money 44 times in 47 lifetime starts. General Assembly finished second in the Derby, Golden Act third, Flying Paster fifth and Screen King sixth.
At the start of the Preakness, Don Pierce, Flying Paster's jockey, a rider who rarely goes to the lead, found himself in front. He moved his colt away from the rail to get in front of Spectacular Bid, breaking tardily from Post Position 2. General Assembly, in the outside post position, shot quickly away from the gate, and he and Flying Paster battled around the first turn for the lead. The two ran head-to-head for half a mile, with General Assembly gaining a half-length advantage. Bid was in fourth place, losing ground but staying free of trouble.
With a little more than ‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö‚à´ths of a mile remaining, Spectacular Bid moved boldly to the front and by the top of the stretch was half a dozen lengths in the clear. Golden Act closed well to finish four lengths in front of Screen King. During the stretch run Franklin hit Bid six times, and when the young Maryland jockey crossed the finish line he repeatedly brandished his whip in exultation.
Minutes later, Franklin accused Screen King's rider, Angel Cordero Jr., of "unsportsmanlike conduct" for going wide on the first turn and on the backstretch. "He was race-ridin'," Franklin said, "but it's not good sportsmanship." When informed of Franklin's remarks, Cordero bristled.
"Who said that?" he asked.
"Again?" Cordero said, referring to a similar outburst after the Florida Derby. "Good. What else is new? I can go anyplace I want with my horse. He fell behind me at the first turn and I didn't cause him any trouble. If he wants to come around me, that's his problem."
Cordero also charged Franklin with "coming over on me" at the half-mile pole. To this, Franklin replied, "Pay back is pay back."
Perhaps Pierce summed up the Preakness as well as anyone. "I thought that we were going into the race with a big shot to beat Spectacular Bid," he said. "Flying Paster ran a lot better in the Preakness than he did in the Derby. I still feel he's a lot better horse than he has shown. But maybe not. Maybe he's hooking better horses than he ran against in California this year, and can't handle them. When Spectacular Bid went by me, I tried to go with him but couldn't."
Bid's emergence as a possible third Triple Crown winner in a row naturally has people talking about the phenomenon. When Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner in 1919, he was one of a crop of 2,128 foals; Citation was one of 5,819; Secretariat was one of 24,954; Spectacular Bid comes from a group of approximately 30,000. Seemingly, it should be more difficult to win a Triple Crown now than before. But it isn't working out that way.
Horse racing, so steeped in tradition, myth and lore, is, as always, reluctant to admit to something unusual, but it would seem that the 1970s are on the way to becoming the Golden Decade of the Horse. Should Spectacular Bid win the Belmont, it would be his 13th consecutive stakes win, a stunning accomplishment. Colin and Man o' War won 14 in a row, Citation 13, Tom Fool 11, Native Dancer nine, but that is from half a century of racing. The 1970s have had Spectacular Bid, Affirmed with seven straight stakes, Seattle Slew six, Forego six and Secretariat four.
Walking slowly back to the stable area at Pimlico after the Preakness, Bud Delp, Bid's trainer, seemed almost subdued—for Delp. "Winning the Preakness," he said, "means so much. It's home folks. Yes, we've got one more big dance to go to before this thing is over. I truly felt last September that I had a Triple Crown winner on my hands. Bid can do so many things right. The Preakness was an outstanding race for him. The added distance of the Belmont? Let's have it! I've talked a lot since last fall—maybe too much—but a trainer usually gets only one chance in his life to go down this road, and I'm enjoying it. Spectacular Bid is versatile; he can handle any kind of track. Maybe what I've been trying to say about this horse all along is that he's unique. Yeah, that's the word, unique. Damned unique."
Delp looked in on Spectacular Bid, drank a couple of beers, posed for pictures and gave interviews. When a woman asked him what the winner's share of the Preakness was, he said, "Ma'am, I don't rightly know. I never thought about it. But I know that by winning the Preakness, Bid went over $1 million in earnings." The exact figure is $1,123,587.
Then the trainer very quietly called his help aside and tipped them. "I'm going out now and have a couple of drinks and a quiet dinner," he said. The man who had trained a horse to 12 stakes wins, won two-thirds of a Triple Crown and been virtually a one-man band in promoting his horse, reached into his pocket and smiled. "On the most satisfying day of my life," he said, "I got $1 in my pocket."