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Bud Delp; Hall of Fame Trainer of Spectacular Bid

Grover G.
Grover G. "Bud" Delp, shown with Plucking Broad at Laurel Park in 2002, saddled 3,674 winners to place ninth on horse racing's all-time trainers list. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 31, 2006

Grover G. "Bud" Delp, 74, a National Racing Hall of Fame trainer who conditioned Spectacular Bid, a steel-gray streak he called "the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle," died of liver cancer Dec. 29 at his home in Ellicott City.

Elected to the hall of fame in 2002, Mr. Delp saddled 3,674 winners, ninth on racing's all-time trainer list, with total earnings of nearly $41 million. He won a stakes race with 70 horses, but none was better than the horse called the Bid.

Bought at auction for $37,000 by Harry and Teresa Meyerhoff, Spectacular Bid won his debut in 1978 at Pimlico Race Course, nearly setting a track record. The next year, under Mr. Delp's guidance, Spectacular Bid won his first five races, all stakes, by wide margins and then took the 1979 Kentucky Derby as an overwhelming favorite.

His effortless victory in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later set him up as an almost guaranteed Triple Crown winner, but he finished third in the Belmont Stakes behind Coastal. After the race, Mr. Delp said he had found a safety pin stuck in one of the colt's hooves.

In 1980, Spectacular Bid had one of the greatest seasons in thoroughbred racing history, winning all nine of his starts, culminating with a victory in the historic Woodward Stakes, a race in which no other owners bothered to enter horses. Spectacular Bid galloped around the Belmont Park track alone, in fast time, and went on to be named horse of the year.

Mr. Delp was born in Creswell, Md. He was 3 when his father died and 9 when his mother married Raymond Archer, a horse trainer who taught his young stepson the rudiments of the racing business.

Mr. Delp was drafted into the Army in 1952 and served as a postman while stationed in Italy during the Korean War.

After briefly attending the University of Maryland, Mr. Delp worked for the next seven years for his stepfather. He saddled his first winner in his name in 1962 and went on to win seven training titles at Pimlico and five at Laurel Park.

He was leading trainer at Delaware Park in Wilmington from 1963 to 1972 and leading trainer at New Jersey's Monmouth Park from 1970 to 1972. He also won titles at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.; New Orleans's the Fair Grounds; Atlantic City; and Arlington Park and Hawthorne, both in Illinois.

"He had a claiming stable, and when he went to a track he liked to drop them" in class, said his wife, Regina Delp. "He took the ones he wanted to lose, and it worked. He'd say, 'I knew they'd take the bait.' "

In 1970s, Mr. Delp was part of the "Big Four" in Maryland, along with King T. Leatherbury, Richard Dutrow and John Tammaro, a group that dominated the winner's circles at tracks throughout the mid-Atlantic. Besides Spectacular Bid, Mr. Delp trained top stakes winners Include, Calipha, Sunny Sunrise and Bronze Abe.

His relationship with owner Harry Meyerhoff dated to 1964. Meyerhoff's son, Tom, joined the racing partnership in 1974.

"He was a stickler for details," Tom Meyerhoff said, "but was always aboveboard, very honest. He never kept secrets or did anything underhanded. If anything, he told us too much."

Mr. Delp moved into Barn 32 at Laurel Park in 1965 after a fire in his barn killed 28 of his 30 horses. Track owner John Schapiro said he could remain there as long as he liked. Mr. Delp stayed there for 40 years.

"I don't think anybody in the country is better than he was," said trainer Dale Capuano. He could win in a Grade I stakes and with a $10,000 maiden. There's not a lot of guys who could do that."

Mr. Delp's marriage to Imajean Delp ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 24 years, of Ellicott City; two sons from his first marriage, Doug Delp of Chester, Pa., and Gerald Delp of Churchville, Pa., and two children from his second marriage, Pajeen Delp of Wilmington, N.C., and Cleve Delp of Ellicott City.


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