Spectacular Bid proved today what his trainer, Bud Delp, has been trying to tell the world for months: that he is an indisputably great racehorse, maybe one of the greatest of all time.
The gray colt won the 105th running of the Kentucky Derby by 23/4 lengths over General Assembly, with an authority that should silence his last few skeptics. The winner's time of 2:022/5 on a track made sticky by two days of rain verified to a national TV audience and a Churchill Downs crowd of 128,488 that he is no ordinary Derby winner.
And Spectacular Bid accomplished his victory with the inexperienced Ron Franklin as his jockey, giving a performance that could have cost a less-superior horse the race.
Spectacular Bid broke from the gate a bit awkwardly, starting what many of Franklin's critics envisioned as the scenario that could cause his defeat. As the field raced to the first turn, other horses cut in front of him, putting him in a potential trap.
A more experienced jockey would have sat patiently in the middle of the pack. Franklin at his worst might have checked Spectacular Bid. Instead, he played it safe: he steered his mount to the outside of the pack, losing valuable ground on the turn but also avoiding the chance of disaster.
While Franklin was setting the stage for Spectacular Bid's move on the backstretch, the 102-to-1 shot, Shamgo, and General Assembly were loping along on the lead, covering the first quarter-mile in a leisurely 241/5 seconds. At the half, covered in 472/5, they were five lengths in front of their pursuers. But now the serious running was about to begin.
As Franklin let Spectacular Bid accelerate toward the leaders, jockey Don Pierce was making his move on Flying Paster, the California star who had won nine of his last 10 races. The two favorites moved abreast, closing in on General Assembly, and for a moment it appeared that the Derby would develop into the classic East v. West confrontation everyone had expected, with the 19-year-old Franklin battling against the 42-year-old Pierce.
But the confrontation lasted only a few seconds. "My horse looked Flying Paster in the eye," Franklin said, "and he kind of spit it out. And I hadn't even asked my horse to run."
Spectacular Bid and Flying Paster jostled each other on the turn, and Pierce said, "My horse got bounced around pretty good. But if he'd been running his race he wouldn't have been caught in there (between Bid and General Assembly). He just wasn't running his race."
Flying Paster might have been hindered by the stickt track, but Spectacular Bid was showing, as he moved on the turn, that he would need no excuses today. He was moving wide, losing again, but now only General Assembly lay in front of him.
The son of Secretariat had never been able to withstand Spectacular Bid when they were 2-year-olds, and he could not hold him off today. By the time there was an eighth of a mile to run, Spectacular Bid was in command, and Franklin whipped him three times to keep the margin safe.
He ran the last quarter in :24 4/5.
Spectacular Bid paid $3.20, and $3, and $2.80. General Assembly returned $5.80 and $3.40 Golden Act, who made a late rally to finish three lengths behind the runner-up, paid $4.20 to show.
In New York's Off-Track Betting, Spectacular Bid return $3.40 to win. The quinella paid $24 for $3, the exacta $19.20 for $2, and the triple $167.20.
Delp said he was a little worried at the start when Spectacular Bid, who broke from the No. 3 post, was inside horses in heavy traffic in the run to the first turn. But the trainer said he felt confident when Franklin took the colt outside.
Delp said he tought the track was a little on the dead side-it was rated fast despite three days of rain/"but many horse beat some fine horses today."
General Assembly ran a good race after his disappointing fifth-place finish in the Wood Memorial April 21 in New York, and for a time it appeared he might come off his Wood defeat to win the Derby, just like his daddy did in 1973.
Golden Act, the Arkansas and Louisana derby winner, ridden by Sandy Hawley, made his expected stretch run but at no time did it appear that he would catch the winner.
The Derby victory was Spectacular Bid's 11th in a row, and it confirmed the enormous confidence that Delp has shown in the horse. After the colt had conquered General Assembly twice last fall to capture the 2-year-old championship, Delp began proclaiming that he might be better that Secretariat.
As Spectacular Bid extended his winnig streak in Florida this winter, Delp proclaimed that he was training "the greates horse who ever looked through a bridle." Much of the racing world scoffed. It is not scoffing today. CAPTION: Picture 1, Spectacular Bid and jockey Ronnie Franklin pass the finish line to win the Kentucky Derby. General Assembly was second. AP; Picture 2, Ronnie Franklin waves his whip as he and Spectacular Bid cross the finish line. UPI; Picture 3, Then poses with the traditional roses in the winners circle. AP