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 ?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 ?th 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."
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 1� 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.