The Saturday racing card at Santa Anita had been over for an hour, and 48-year-old Bill Shoemaker was standing in the Director's Room of the Turf Club with a drink in his hand, looking up at a television monitor showing tapes of the day's races.
Heavy flecks of gray now dominate Shoemaker's black hair but otherwise his appearance remains the same. He was dressed perfectly, with his dark slacks creased and his gray jacket looking as if it had come from the dry cleaner only moments before. "It seems that on days when I'm riding a good horse in a stake, other things fall in line for me," he said. "Adrenaline? Maybe it flows faster, I really don't know. I just seem to have days when everything seems to go right. Today was one of those days."
Shoemaker watched himself win the sixth race and then the seventh. "The seventh was one hell of a horse race," he said. "Three of us battled through the stretch, and I won it between horses. It was close, but I knew I had it by about a head." The television set flickered and Shoemaker looked up at it. "This race here," he said of the eighth, which he had won on Spectacular Bid, "is a lot of fun. This horse that I'm riding here can really run."
What is there left to say of Shoemaker? He rode brilliantly in the 1940s, '50s, '60s and '70s and could well have his best year ever in 1980, because he is riding the best horse extant. By winning the San Fernando Stakes last weekend, Bid affirmed what people have long thought: he is a money machine, a charcoal-gray wonder of ice and iron which, when right, can dominate his opposition and turn the most important races in the country into little more than canters through the park. Shoe is a money machine, too. The San Fernando was his 200th stakes win at Santa Anita. It also was the 148th time Shoe had won a $100,000 race, and he now has 7,777 victories, including 782 stakes.
Bid and Shoe went off in the 1?-mile San Fernando, the first 100-grand stakes of the California season, at the incredible odds of 1 to 98. They faced only three opponents, and at the head of the stretch the crowd of 43,799 was certain it was about to witness one of the biggest upsets of any racing year. Bid had virtually walked out of the starting gate and been taken back to last place down the backstretch before making up a 10-length deficit and reclaiming the lead on a tiring racetrack. Once he was in front, Spectacular Bid started to dawdle, and a very good horse named Flying Paster came surging at him on the outside. Flying Paster picked up five lengths, moving to Spectacular Bid's right flank, and appeared ready to whiz past Bid until Shoemaker gave his mount a couple of gentle lefthanded stings with the whip. Bid (1:48) drew away to win by 1� lengths, with the last horse in the field—Timbo—nearly 50 lengths behind.
If Spectacular Bid gets any better than he has been in California this winter, a special wing will have to be built for him at racing's Hall of Fame. He has started twice, won twice and moved into fourth place on the alltime money list with earnings of $1,774,917. His first two races, however, have been mere preludes to more important events ahead, which will be run for purses ranging from $200,000 to $400,000. Bid was bet so heavily last Saturday that in winning he caused an $85,026.56 minus pool, because there wasn't enough money wagered on the other starters to cover the minimum $2.10 payoff. Only once in history has there been a larger minus pool—in 1966 when a 2-year-old named Tumble Wind ran at Hollywood Park—but the most interesting fact about all this is that Flying Paster, the winner of the Santa Anita and Hollywood Derbies in 1979, went off at 8 to 1 as the second choice.
Spectacular Bid has now won 19 of 23 races and only once in his career has he been passed in the stretch. Even on that occasion—Bid's loss to Coastal in the Belmont Stakes—he may have had a valid excuse in the much-discussed "safety pin incident," Bid having reportedly stepped on one the morning of the race. The big debate in racing now is not whether any horse can beat Bid but if anyone can truly warm him up.
This year and last, racing has been blessed by the fact that outstanding 3-year-olds remained around to run at age 4. Last year Affirmed proved himself to be one of the best horses of all time; this year Bid will probably do the same. But will that accomplishment be worth it? The other day at Santa Anita, Harry Meyerhoff, the owner of Spectacular Bid along with his wife, Teresa, and his son, Tommy, addressed the manifold economic considerations involved in running Bid as a 4-year-old. "For 1980 alone it costs more than $1 million for injury and fertility insurance," said Meyerhoff. "And that money has already been paid. It also costs a lot to keep our stable up. Is it worth it? It is to us. I happen to love horse racing, and while I'm an owner, I'm basically still a fan. I want other people to get a chance to see Bid. Racing fans deserve the chance to see outstanding horses run. We've decided to run Bid, and he should have a good year. But I'm not going to make much money running him. Actually, I'll probably lose money."
Meyerhoff has an excellent sense of humor, and he showed it last Saturday at Santa Anita. Before the running of the San Fernando, the Meyerhoffs were having lunch at the track when Art Rooney, the 78-year-old owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was brought around for introductions. Rooney owns horses himself (Shamrock Stable) and got the money to buy the Steelers when he won a big bet at Saratoga many years ago. "I like your horse very much," Rooney said to Meyerhoff, "and I'm glad you are running him as a 4-year-old. I hope you win today, but I don't want to bother you at lunch. The best of luck to you and Seattle Slew."
Meyerhoff wished Rooney and his Steelers the best in the Super Bowl, and the old football man walked off. A few minutes later Tim Rooney, Art's son, approached Meyerhoff. "My dad is terribly embarrassed that he called your horse Seattle Slew," Tim said, "and he wants to apologize. He hopes you'll forgive him. If it wasn't the week of the Super Bowl, he'd never make a mistake like that."