And so the last trick was taken by another horse. There would be no triple triple. History and the long, demanding stretch at Belmont Park had caught up with Spectacular Bid. With ‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö‚à´ths of a mile remaining in the Belmont Stakes last Saturday, he was leading, seemingly drawing away from his seven rivals. He was four lengths in front of 12-to-1 shot General Assembly and looking just as strong as he had while rattling off victories in 12 consecutive stakes races. Just 660 yards to go to the third Triple Crown in three years. But in the next ‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µth of a mile Spectacular Bid began to behave like a very fat man trying to run up a very steep hill. In the stretch curve he drifted out from the rail. His lead diminished. He was having trouble getting air into his lungs, and his legs seemed to desert him. With a furlong to go, he was a beaten horse, seconds away from joining the company of Pensive, Tim Tam, Carry Back, Northern Dancer, Kauai King, Forward Pass, Majestic Prince and Canonero II—the band of Derby and Preakness winners that came a cropper at Belmont.
The winner, Coastal, was one of those lightly raced colts that periodically come out of old-line barns to waste Belmont pretenders. The steady Golden Act, spear-carrier-in-chief in the classic races, was second. Bid, who had been described by his trainer, Bud Delp, as the greatest horse ever to look through a bridle, was looking at the nearly four lengths of track between his nose and Coastal's as he finished third.
Did Bid's young jockey, Ron Franklin, ride the horse badly? Some of the jocks in the race and those watching from the sidelines asserted that he had, criticizing him for moving Bid to the front too soon.
Delp disagreed, "Ronnie rode him good," he said. "Maybe Bid's just not a mile-and-a-half horse. Ronnie rode the horse perfect. Exactly the way I would've rode him if I'd been on him. Bid was running easily. The horse just ran out of gas. I just don't think he ran his race. Heck, I thought the horse could go two miles. There are some exceptional horses that can't run a mile and a half. The best horse won the race, that's all."
June 17, 1979
Delp's 18-year-old son, Doug, had a different notion. He leaned against a limo outside of Bid's barn with his arms crossed and his eyes cast downward. "I thought that if we had a great rider on him, he would have won," he said. "If we had a pro we might have won."
By Sunday morning, Bud Delp was back in Baltimore at his barn at Pimlico, where Bid had arrived by van. The colt, he said, may have been hurting a bit during the Belmont. He said he didn't disclose it immediately after the race because he didn't want his remarks construed as an excuse. Delp then said Bid had stepped on a safety pin from his protective bandages on race morning. "It went up about 1¼ inches and he was lame," he said. "I took the pin out and he bled a little, but he was walking O.K. I walked him for about 45 minutes and then jogged him a bit, and there was no sign of lameness."
Delp informed Bid's owners, Harry, Teresa and Tom Meyerhoff, of the mishap. "It was a nervous day for all of us." Delp said. "But when Bid didn't get worse, I decided to run him. I told Ronnie not to mention the thing to reporters after the race. As far as the running of the race goes, I don't have any complaints or excuses."
The first signs that Bid might be heading for trouble in the Belmont came the Monday before the race. On that murky morning a light mist had descended on the track, which had been drenched by three days of rain and resembled butterscotch pudding. Bud Delp seemed happy as Spectacular Bid came out to work a mile. During the early part of the work, Bid moved easily, but as the horse reached the quarter pole he began to labor, and exercise rider Robert Smith slapped away at him with the whip. Bid finished the mile in 1:39. "He needed this work," Delp said. "He got a little tired at the end."
In the next few hours other trainers analyzed that workout. John Nerud, the astute horseman who trained Gallant Man for his upset of Bold Ruler in the 1957 Belmont, said, "I'll bet horses will come out of the woodwork to run. Instead of a small field there will be a big one. A mile in 1:39 doesn't impress anyone. Bid has had a long, tough campaign, and a mile and a half is a new ball game. If there's a fresh horse around, he'll run."
Nerud was right. Although projected as a race among only Bid, Golden Act, General Assembly and Screen King, eight horses went to the post on Saturday. And if ever there was a fresh horse, it was Coastal. He had started only three times in 1979. To be sure, he had run against Bid last fall at Atlantic City and had been beaten by 17 lengths. Coastal, by Majestic Prince out of a Buckpasser mare, hadn't been nominated for the Belmont because it was felt he was developing so slowly that he wouldn't be ready. Thus Owner William Haggin Perry had to pay a supplemental entry fee of $20,000. None of the 11 horses previously supplemented to the Belmont had won it.
But only Coastal looked a spoiler. All the other Belmont starters had had at least twice as many races this year, some even three times as many. In the past decade the fresh-horse stratagem had not worked, but in the '50s and '60s several horses that hadn't run in either the Derby or the Preakness came on to win the Belmont. Cavan won the 1958 Belmont when Tim Tam broke down, Quadrangle defeated heavily favored Northern Dancer in 1964 and Stage Door Johnny surprised Forward Pass in 1968.
To some, Coastal seemed to be in the race merely to make it more interesting for the bettors. Perry is a longtime owner and breeder and his young trainer, David Whiteley, is a very conservative man, not known for asking his clients to supplement to races. But Coastal had been impressive in winning the Peter Pan at Belmont some two weeks earlier and had been doing well in workouts. Still no one expected him to be the colt to prevent Bid from becoming the third straight Triple Crown winner, following Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in '78.
For the first quarter mile of the Belmont Jockey Ruben Hernandez had Coastal in fourth place. As Spectacular Bid headed into the stretch, Hernandez moved Coastal in along the rail and began his run. Bid's three-length lead disappeared quickly, and he was suddenly joined by Golden Act on the outside and Coastal on the inside. Coastal easily overtook Bid and coasted in by 3¼ lengths in 2:28⅗ well above Secretariat's track record of 2:24 in 1973. Golden Act, third in the Derby and second in the Preakness, passed the flagging Bid a few strides before the wire, nipping him by a neck for second money, worth $59,180. Coastal earned $161,400 and Bid $32,280.
Since February, Franklin had been able to take Spectacular Bid wide of his fields without ever enduring a hard fight in the stretch. "I knew I couldn't go outside Spectacular Bid," Hernandez said later, "because I would be out far too wide. When the opening was there, I just shot through it."
The outcome of the Belmont didn't surprise Sandy Hawley, Golden Act's rider. "The campaign is so tough," Hawley said, "that you wonder how any horse can ever win the Triple Crown. Horses ship and work out and then have to go through three very tough races in five weeks. Coastal just flew by both of us. My horse was tired at the end of it and so was Spectacular Bid."
Franklin patiently endured a painful press conference after the race, answering every question, including those about a paternity suit recently filed against him. And he could hear the taunting voice of Jockey Angel Cordero (who finished seventh on General Assembly) over the jockey room P.A. system congratulating Hernandez and proclaiming, "I told you no horse is unbeatable. Every turkey has his Thanksgiving." The bad blood between Franklin and Cordero had been evident since February's Florida Derby, and it had erupted anew Wednesday in a jockeys'-room brawl. A bumping incident coming out of the gate for the fourth race led to the fight, which cost the riders $250 each in fines.
Franklin stared straight ahead during Cordero's outburst Saturday and said, yes, he had had lower moments in his life: "After the Florida Derby, even though I won." Following that race, Bud Delp called his rider an "idiot" for his poor ride, and Franklin has been hearing variations on that theme ever since.
Immediately after the Belmont, as Franklin walked to the jockeys' room, he was booed. Several fans even threw rolled-up programs at him. Half an hour later, as he headed back to the barn to rejoin Delp and return to Baltimore, he said, laughing, "Don't nobody stay too close to me, I might get plucked off."
According to Delp, though, Franklin won't be plucked off Bid in his next start, probably the Jim Dandy in August at Saratoga. "Sure I'll keep Ronnie on him," Delp said. "It's his horse. The jockey can't carry the horse, the horse must carry the rider. If you're not prepared to lose in this business, you better get yourself into another profession. Spectacular Bid will win a lot more races before this year is over."
But probably none at 1½ miles.