For the first time in more than a decade, Maryland has a champion racehorse.
Spectacular Bid proved that he is the best 2-year-old in America when he devasted General Assembly by 8 1/2 lengths in the Laurel Futurity yesterday. In the process, he established himself as the clear favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby. He also showed that his trainer, Buddy Delp, is a man with nerves of steel.
Delp left himself wide open for criticism this week when he replaced the illustrious Jorge Velasquez as his colt's rider and gave the assignment to his regular stable jockey, Ronald Franklin. The 18-year-old apprentice from Dundalk, Md. clearly lacked the experience and ability of his rivals, Steve Cauthen on General Assembly and Jeffrey Fell on Tim The Tiger.
Delp said he wanted to boost Franklin's chances to be named the country's leading apprentice. But if the move cost Spectacular Bid a victory, Delp would be blamed forever.
Instead, Franklin made his boss look like a genius. He rode the race of his life.
"I knew that if I could get the lead without using the horse, we'd be in good shape," Franklin said. He did just that. He restrained Spectacular Bid early, coasting through the first quarter in a dawdling 23 4/5 seconds, while longshot Clever Trick raced alongside him.
Cauthen kept General Assembly behind the leaders and didn't ask his mount for a serious move until he had gone more than half a mile.
General Assembly launched his serious challenge on the turn, swooping outside the two leaders. For a split-second the Futurity looked as if it might develop into a Cauthen vs. Franklin stretch duel, a prospect that might have alarmed Spectacular Bid's backers.
But Franklin wasn't worried. "I knew I had a ton of horse under me," he said. And when he started to use his whip, Spectacular Bid turned the race into a rout. He pulled away from General Assembly with every stride, but Franklin kept pushing him, remembering Delp's prerace instructions: "Ride him out so that the people can see what kind of horse we have."
At the finish, Spectacular Bid was 8 1/2 lengths ahead of the runner-up, 20 1/2 ahead of Clever Trick and 24 lengths in front of last-place Tim The Tiger, whose performance was uanccountably dismal.
Spectacular Bid covered the 11/16 miles in 1:41 3/5, smashing the track record at the seldom-run distance.
Spectacular Bid paid $3.80 to win and $2.20 to place, while General Assembly returned $2.20 to place. There was no show wagering. The exacta paid $5.80.
Spectacular Bid had launched his career at Pimlico in the spring, but did not demonstrate his exceptional talent until September, when he won a minor stake at Atlantic City by 15 lengths. After that he defeated General Assembly in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont, and then captured the Young America Stakes at the Meadowlands.
Still, the racing world was not convinced - as it never is convinced by horses based outside New York. General Assembly probably would have won the 2-year-old championship if he had captured the Futurity yesterday. Now all debate has been silenced.
Delp said he will race Spectacular Bid once more this year, in the Heritage Stakes at Keystone. He will keep his colt at Laurel until just after Christmas, and then send him to Gulf-stream Park in Miami, where he will begin his preparations for the Kentucky Derby.