Whatever Ronnie Franklin is, he is no scared kid. Kundalk taught him better. There's a nasty scar-curl to Franklin's lip, left after an alley scuffle at Dundalk, his own 12 miles from Pimlico. If we took Ronnie to our hearts when his boss called the little kid an obscene idiot, the gesture was nice but hardly necessary. A horse named Survivor won the first Preakness 106 years ago. A survivor named Franklin won it today.
Spectacular Bid helped. The big horse outran four pretenders, finishing 5 1/2 lengths ahead of Golden Act, 9 1/2 ahead of the third-place Screen King. "I'm gonna send this dude today," said trainer LeRoy Jolley, who then watched his General Assembly run last in the five-horse field.
The only horse given much a chance to beat Spectacular Bid was Flying Paster, the Californian who ran out of gas the weekend of the Kentucky Derby. A half-hour before today's race, though, Flying Paster kicked off a shoe in his stall. Did the Californian wish to run in sandals? Reshod, he ran poorly, beating only Jolley's dude.
Three horses in the last six years have won thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown-the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes-and now Spectacular Bid has two legs up on the trick no horse had turned in 25 years before Secretariat showed Seattle Slew and Affirmed how to do it.
"I think we're a cinch," said Ronnie Franklin, 19, Spectacular Bid's jockey.
Unless Angel Cordero brings a ball bat with him next time.
Cordero is one of the world's great riders. On Screen King today, Cordaro rode all over the track. A dotted line marking Screen King's path would look like a blueprint for spaghetti. Four-year-old urchins making their first ride on a bicycle don't go so crooked as Cordero did today in one of America's premier horse races.
Because Cordero did his broken-field running directly in front of Franklin and Spectacular Bid, Franklin saw it all. He didn't like it. He knows that Cordero is good enough to steer a bucking bronc where he wants it to go. It was "bad sportsmanship," Franklin first said in a television interview.
Quickly asked if he though Cardero intentionally tried to bother him, Franklin said, "No, no, I'm not going to say that. He was just doing his job. He was just race-riding."
The day trainer Bud Delp called Franklin an obscene idiot for steering Spectacular Bid into all sorts of trouble before winning the Florida Derby, Franklin was outraged by the riding tactics of, among others, Angel Cordero and other Latin riders conspired to put him in a box.
Today Cordero tried it again.
Ronnie Franklin was ready.
Twice Cordero kept his horse far from the rail, forcing Franklin to make a decision: Go outside Cordero, or risk a move to the rail where Cordero then could trap him. Running on the outside is the long way around, but Franklin knew Delp's advice today: "Keep him clear and get him running."
So he let Cordero force him wide on the first turn and he allowed Cordero, running in the middle of the backstretch, to keep him even wider back there.
"He took me a little wide," Franklin said charitably.
On the far turn, with Cordero and Franklin running third and fourth but moving up on the fading leaders, it was time for the street urchin from Dundalk to work unafraid.
"I had me enough horse to go raceriding," Franklin said. "So I shoved Cordero back down there where he belongs."
He shoved Cordero back in there by simply guiding Spectacular Bid in front of Screen King. Riders with fear don't make that move. Riders burdened by excess caution don't make that move. Losers don't make that move. Franklin moved over in front of the great jockey who had moved in front of him for three-quarters of a mile. Cordero had to slow down.
"And then I went on," Franklin said.
He smiled a little at that one. But however often anyone asked, he would say nothing ill of Cordero. "He was just doing his job and I was doing mine," Franklin said. "Could I have a drink of water now?"
Someone among the assembled reporters suggested that champagne might be more fitting a celebratory beverage when a Dundalkian-Dundalkite? -wins a big famous race next door.
"I think 'd rather have Bloody Marys," Franklin said, a smile exploding. "I think Bud is going to pour 'em down my throat when I go back to the barn."
"Ronn-eee . . . Ronn-eeee" came the chant from Franklin's street buddies behind the winner's circle. Randy Heenan, in a T-shirt in the festive crowd of 72,607, said, "I grew up with him. I'm one of his best friends. I put $150 on him and I only won $15. But what the hell."
Franklin shook hands, a politician pressing the flesh, and said he'd see them later. From Delp's barn, Franklin said he would move to parties at his house, Delp's house and back in the neighborhood at Searles Road Alley. "I might party all through tomorrow morning," he said.
Spectacular Bid missed the Preakness record by one-fifth of a second. "I kinda eased up," Franklin said. He loves this horse. "Wherever that wire is, he's gonna go to that wire. He knows where that wire is by now and he's gonna take me . . . Any kind of track, he'll run on it. He'll run over a rocky road if he has to."
And the kid will be right with him. CAPTION: Picture 1, Spectacular Bid, with Ron Franklin in the stirrups, rolls across finish line 5 1/2 lengths in front of the field. By Richard Darcey-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Spectacular Bid's trainer, Buddy Delp, gestures as the finish of the race is called "official." By Richard Darcey-The Washington Post; Picture 3, Ron Franklin; Chart, Chart of Preakness