May 14, 1979
It is a sad fact of horse racing that the best runners don't always make the best sires, that a champion's legend can be diminished by the quality of his genes. So it is with Spectacular Bid, a modestly bred colt who became one of the best racehorses of all time but who has been a spectacular flop at stud. From 1978 to '80 he won 13 Grade I stakes. In the last 20 years, however, his progeny have won just one, and his stud fee has fallen from a lofty $150,000 in '84 to only $3,500 today. "He's still a legitimate stallion," insists veterinarian Jonathan Davis, the Bid's syndicate manager at Milfer Farm in Unadilla, N.Y. "He just hasn't cloned himself."
That would be a tall order. After winning the Eclipse Award as the best 2-year-old colt in 1978, Spectacular Bid made a run for the Triple Crown that seemed to carry with it a whisper of destiny. For the first five months of '79 he laid waste the 3-year-old division like few horses before him. He won five prep races by an average of more than seven lengths, then swept the Kentucky Derby—he was the last favorite to prevail until Fusaichi Pegasus this year—and the Preakness in similar fashion. The Bid's outspoken trainer, Grover (Buddy) Delp, said of his charcoal-and-copper colt that spring, "He may be the best horse ever to look through a bridle." Considered a mortal lock to win the third Triple Crown in three years, after Seattle Slew in '77 and Affirmed in '78, the Bid was leading in the Belmont by four lengths as he turned for home, but he tired in the stretch and finished a distant third to a lightly raced chestnut named Coastal.
Though Spectacular Bid's bid for the Triple Crown fell short, he burnished his legend the following year with arguably the strongest 4-year-old campaign ever. He won all nine of his starts, including the 1�-mile Strub at Santa Anita in the unearthly time of 1:57 4/5, the fastest mile and a quarter ever run on dirt, and took the Woodward Stakes at Belmont in September 1980 in a walkover. Bill Shoemaker called him the best horse he ever rode.
In 1981 the Bid retired to Claiborne Farm, in Kentucky, where he lived in the stallion barn along with Secretariat. He moved to Milfer Farm, where he would be the sole star, in '91 and is now bred to as many as 50 mares a year, siring show horses as well as racehorses. He has gone a ghostly gray in his old age, and though the shade is a far cry from the coat he wore during his youth, it's no less distinguished. "When you bring the camera out, he'll pose," says Davis. "He's kind of a ham. He still knows who he is."