By the normal standards of Kentucky Derby behavior, trainer Gordon Campbell has been a model of decorum this week. Bud Delp has been Bud Delp.
Campbell, silver-haired and soft-spoken, talks of his colt Flying Paster in cautious, understated terms, never predicting a victory, always according his rival the utmost respect. Delp states flatly that Spectacular Bid will win on Saturday, and he does it each day with new superlatives, hyberbole and flair.
The two men approach the Derby so differently that one might think they come from different planets. In fact, they traveled similar paths to get here, both paying their dues by scuffling early in their lives, both establishing a solid local reputaion, and both now getting the one exceptional horse who has thrust them into the national spotlight.
Campbell, born 61 years ago in Olds, Alberta, Canada, learned the training business from his father, and learned that it can be tough. "He got three dollars a day as his training fee," Campbell remembered. "I often wonder how we survived." Campbell himself quit school at 16 to assist his father, struck out on his own at small-time tracks in Canada, then moved up to the big time in California. There he developed a number of good stakes horses and finally a great one, Flying Paster.
Delp, too, had tough days in his early experience as a trainer. He can remember what it is like to be broke. And he can remember, all too vividly, what disaster is like: A fire at Laurel in 1965 killed 30 of his 32 horses and forced him to build a new stable from scratch. But since that time Delp has been a dominant trainer in Maryland, achieving such consistent success with cheap and medium-grade horses that it became almost monotonous. Spectacular Bid ended the monotony.
Campbell and Delp relate their present good fortunes to their past experience in totally different ways. Campbell is all too aware of the vicissitudes of furtune and the unpredictability of the game. Even after Flying Paster scored his ninth victory in his last 10 starts, winning the Hollywood Derby by 10 lengths, Campbell refused to utter the adjective "great" or predict what will happen in the Derby.
He shrugged off Delp's confident predictions. "I guess Delp's just that sort of guy," Campbell said. "It doesn't bother me in the least. I'm here for a horse race, not a debate. I don't know whether I'll beat him. But if he beats me, he'll know he's been in a horse race."
Delp, of course, has shown no such verbal restraint. He proclaimed this winter that Spectacular Bid is "the greatest horse ever to look thorough a bridle" and he has had no occasion to modify this assessment. At a stage of the season where other trainers often seem weary or tense or testy, Delp acts as if he is getting a daily shot of adrenaline-only he gets it from the very excitment of being in the lime-light with his horse.
One veteran reporter, observing Delp for the first time, asked a colleague with disbelief, "Is he always like this?" Delp himself had an answer for the question: "I'm not an actor. It's just that I've never had anything to talk about before. I'm not some kind of a nut. I feel good about having this horse and I like talking about him."
Delp's expressions of confidence often read, on the printed page, like arrogance or immaturity. But they are, in fact, the outgrowths of a genuine, unabashed enthusiasm for what he is doing.
Spectacular Bid came as a revelation to Delp. Even after winning thousands of races in his career, the trainer said, "I often wondered what great horses have that separate them from the rest. I'd never seen it in any horse I trained. Now I know. They use everything God gave them, to perfection. And they do what they have to do without effort."
Delp said he saw signs of great potential in Spectacular Bid before he made his debut at Pimlico last spring, and evidence of greatness when he won the World's Playground Stakes at Atlantic City by 15 lengths. But it was the Laurel Futurity that gave Delp some kind of historical perspective on his horse.
"I saw Secretariat win the Laurel Futurity in 1972," Delp said, "and he was the best horse I'd ever seen. But after studying it a lot, I think Spectacular Bid's race in the Futurity was even better. He's the best I ever saw. I still don't know how great he is,"
Spectacular Bid has won most of his races with ease, and Delp believes he won't show the full extent of his ability until he is pressured. So he is awaiting Saturday with a feeling of excitement rather than apprehension.
"I'm looking forward to the Derby just like you are," he told a reporter. "I've never really tested him and I don't know how fast he can run. But he's coming up to the race just right and I think he'll show you something special. I'm confident he's going to win the Kentucky Derby. The only chance Flying Paster has to beat Spectacular Bid is if he's another Secretariat. In a way, I hope he is."