An admirer of Secretariat once summed his greatness with the statement: His only point of reference is himself.
That assessment is becoming increasingly applicable to Spectacular Bid. The question surrounding the 104th Preakenss Stakes is not so much whether he will win it but how he will do it, whether he will reveal any new dimensions to his enormous talent.
Spectacular Bid will be favored Saturday at odds of 1 to 5 or less to score his 12th consecutive victory and capture the second leg of racing's Triple Crown (WJLA-TV-7 at at p.m.). Although the Pimlico classic has produced three stunning upsets in the last seven years, the chance of an upset in this Preakness is very remote.
Only four horses are challenging the favorite, and all of them lost to him in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago.
That 2 3/4-length victory was so decisive that it subdued not only Bid's few remaining skeptics, but also his voluble trainer, Bud Delp. For months, Delp has been telling the world how great his horse is. After the Derby, his bluster ended. Words were not necessary any more.
Delp has seemingly kept Spectacular Bid in peak condition since he came from Kentucky to his home base in Maryland. The colt has trained very sharply at Pimlico during the last week and, his trainer said, "he's a better horse now than he was at the Derby. He's still fresh. And he's telling us he wants to do his number."
Spectacular Bid's four rivals Saturday will be General Assembly, Golden Act, Flying Paster and Screen King, the 2-3-5-6 finishers in the Kentucky Derby. But some of the losing trainers, most notably Gordon Campbell, refuse to accept the validity of the Derby result.
When Campbell's colt, Flying Paster, came to Churchill Downs after winning nine of his 10 previous starts in impressive fashion, the Derby was billed as a real East vs. West confrontation.
Flying Paster and Spectacular Bid were racing head-and-head when they launched their rallies, but Paster's fizzled almost as soon as it had begun. One writer said it was appropriate, especially on a weekend, that a West Coast horse should have run out of gas.
"That wasn't him at all in the Derby8" Campbel said. "I definitely know he's capable of a better race. I don't think he liked that drying-out track; the only other race where he was beaten in California was on a drying-out tract, too. Since he's come to Pimlico, he seems a lot brighter and more chipper than he was in Louisville. I hope he'll run his race on Saturday."
Despite Campbell's optimistic assessment, Flying Paster was not impressive in his one workout at Pimlico, and there is no other evidence to suggest that he is likely to reproduce his good California form.
There is even the possibility that, should the track be sloppy, Paster will be scratched.
General Assembly is the one bonafide challenger in the Preakness field. The son of Secretariat should have the early lead, and front-runners generally fare better at Pimlico than at Churchill Downs, because the turns are tighter, the track surface is usually harder and the race is shorter (1 3/16 miles).
If jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. does send General Assembly to a long early lead, he could cause some problems for Spectacular Bid and his oftmaligned rider, Ron Franklin.
But that prospect does not concern Delp. "I've got to respect General Assembly and (trainer) Leroy Jolley," he said. "But my horse is better than General Assembly. We've beaten him by leading all the way, and by coming from 10 lenghts behind him."
Whichever may he chooses to do it Saturday, he should make this Preakness a memorable one. CAPTION: Picture, Flying Paster seems raring to go, but few give him a chance against Spectacular Bid. AP