For two years trainer Bud Delp has been telling the world that Spectacular Bid is one of the greatest horses who ever lived. Today he ducked a chance to prove it.

Delp declined to enter Saturday's Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park because the race posed too much of a challenge for his colt. And he ducked it in a fashion that was as tacky as it was cowardly.

Spectacular Bid this year has been compiling one of the greatest single season records in racing history, albeit at the expense of weak competition. He has captured all eight of his starts, set four track records and earned more than $1 million.

In handicap races like the Marlboro, of course, a horse must pay a price for previous successes, by carrying weight that gives his rivals at least a sporting chance. New York's racing secretary Lenny Hale, assigned Bid 136 pounds, and no objective student of the game would deny that this high impost was warranted.

In some higher class racing circles, owners relish the opportunity to let their horses undertake such challenges. When Forego was forced to carry weights as high as 138, owner Martha Gerry never once uttered a word of protest or passed a race. Since there are no other top-notch horses in the country this year, weight is the only thing that can give Bid a challenge, Carrying 136 pounds successfully would put him in a class with some of the great horses of all times.

Joe Cantey, the trainer of Temperence Hill, said this morning, "If I had Spectacular Bid and had been saying what he (Delp) has been saying, I'd have called Lenny Hale and asked for 140 pounds so he'd go down in history. And if he got beat, nobody could say anything."

There were, of course, plenty of pragmatic reasons for Delp's decision. His job is to get Bid through this season with an unblemished record before he becomes the highest priced stallion in history. By skipping the Marlboro, he has nothing but soft touches ahead of him. Bid will carry 126 pounds under the weight-for-age conditions of the next two big stakes in New York. He also may run in a handicap at the Meadowlands, where the racing secretary probably would weight him more charitably in order to lure a box office attraction.

Delp justifiably could have said that, when he is managing a $22 million property for other people, he cannot take unnecessary risks for the sake of "sportsmanship." Anybody who understands modern day racing economics could have appreciated his position.

But cool rationality is not Delp's style. Instead, he publicly blasted the "incompetence" of the racing secretary who had assigned his horse the 136 pounds he deserved to carry. "Lenny Hale either has to much pressure on him or he doesn't know how to handicap a race properly," Delp said. The trainer obviously prefers to deal with racing secretaries who will stack the deck in his favor. He was saying, in essence: We'll play the game only if you play it according to our wishes.

After Hale issued his weights Monday morning, Delp said he and owner Harry Meyerhoff would have to mull over their plans, but indicated that he was leaning toward running. This was untrue. At 3 p.m. Monday, the agent for Spectacular Bid's jockey made a commitment to ride another horse in the Marlboro. The agent told trainer Doug Worswick that Bill Shoemaker would be available to ride Tanthem because Bid definitely was out of the race.

Yet, for the next three days, Delp publicly was vacillating, just so he could have the satisfaction of pulling the rug from under the Marlboro Cup at the last possible moment. Despite the two years he has spent with Spectacular Bid in the upper echelon of the sport, Delp has not advanced too far from his bush league racing origins.