An hour before he even saddled Spectacular Bid for the Florida Derby today, trainer Bud Delp was angry with jockey Ron Franklin.
"He better not do that on Bid," Delp said of a Franklin ride that, in his mind, had cost his Poems And Promises victory. "If he does, I'm calling Shoemaker."
Delp had laughed nervously and winked. But when Franklin returned after doing little more than hang on as Bid ran about 10 furlongs to win a nine-furlong race, Delp was livid. He did all but pull the jock off his horse before they entered the winner's circle.
"He's getting a size 10 1/2 up his rear end tonight," Delp said. "It might take three doctors to get it out. He might not sit down for a week."
This time there was no wink. This time Delp said: "If Shoemaker calls, I ain't hanging up on him."
Inside the jocks' room, the 19-year-old Franklin, who rode his first winner slightly more than a year ago, spoke of a conspiracy.
"Well, they teamed up on me," he said. "Six riders against one."
"They want my horse."
Did they cut Franklin off or box him?
"Everything. They were yelling all over the place, 'Go inside, go outside.' They ain't got no class at all. Listen to 'em (as Angel Cordero and Jorge Valesquez talked in Spanish nearby. "You can't understand 'em."
Delp was unconvinced, although at one point he did say he could understand Franklin being suckered in "by this select group" of rival jocks and that "the smartest thing about Franklin is that he's not smart."
Why Delp kept Franklin this long has mystified many. Would the Steelers hire David Whitehurst to play quarterback if Terry Bradshaw were healthy? And Delp talking of Bid's future is like Jack Nicklaus predicting he will win the grand slam and Tom Landry, before the season begins, saying not only that the Cowboys will win the Super Bowl but also by how many points.
"Best horse that ever looked through a bridle," Delp said the other day.
"This horse is a cinch, if there's been one that's lived," he said shortly before the Derby today.
The emotion Delp hurled at Franklin began to surface two races before the Derby. The exact time was when Franklin and Delp's Poems And Promises approached the backstretch of a 1 1/2-mile turf race.
Poems And Promises was leading but Delp, looking through binoculars and standing on a concrete stand between his barn and the track, said: "They don't pay off at the half-mile pole.
When Ashford Castle and Vasquez overcame a two-length deficit in the final 1,300 yards and beat Poems And Promises by a half length, Delp mumbled: "That's what Bid's done to this kid. He should have held him a little. Now he thinks every horse he rides is Spectacular Bid."
Still, Delp remained outwardly calm and confident. In a few minutes, he stood several feet in front of Bid's stall and whistled softly. Bid moved from the back of his stall and looked toward Delp.
The trainer repeated the whistles three more times but Bid remained motionless. Apparently, this was Delp's way of suggesting that Bid take the athlete's pregrame trip to the bathroom. Bid said nay. His nerves were fine.
And the race proved Bid to be as fine as Delp as predicted, for he probably could have carried Ben Franklin to victory today.
"I could win on him," Delp said. "And I weigh 190 pounds and ain't been on a horse in 20 years. We'll sit down and talk (about Franklin's future). But I'll have the hoss whip on him. I don't want to lose any more races on this horse. We should have won by 25 lengths today."
Delp sounds more like P. T. Barnum than a horse traniner. Most trainers would have you believe they were saddling a mule against a field of Affirmeds and Seattle Slews before each race.
Part of his talk is to scare away as many Triple Crown horses as possible. Part of it is to disguise his own lack of experience with such a gifted animal. As he said today, "I ain't never got a 1-to-10 horse beat 'cause I never had a 1-to-10 horse."
But he added, realistically enough, before today's race: "What's the worst that can happen? If Spectacular Bid drops dead today, the man (owner Harry Meyerhoff) gets his $10 million insurance, and I go back to Maryland and do what I been doing the last 25 years.
"If Bid gets hurt, he's still worth at least $10 million as a stallion. And if don't nothing happen to him (and he included jockey and trainer error), nobody in God's world will beat him."