They gave a horse race and nobody came.
All of Spectacular Bid's potential challengers dropped out of the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park today. The champion had only to make a pro forma solo gallop of 1 1/4 miles to "win" one of the most prestigious races in America.
The events of the day revived a term that had seemingly become extinct: walkover. The last time a horse found himself devoid of challengers in a major race was 1949, when Coaltown went into the starting gate alone for a stake at Havre de Grace, Md.
Walkovers don't happen any more because someone is usually willing to run for the standard 20 percent of the purse that goes to the second-place finisher in any race. It was an unusual combination of events that kept anybody from taking the Woodward's $40,000 second-place money.
Bid did not figure to have many opponents because he figured to be almost unbeatable under the Woodward conditions, which required him to carry only 126 pounds. Many of the nominees to this race ran instead in a $150,000 handicap at the Meadowlands on Thursday night.
Only three horses were entered against Bid. The trainers of Dr. Patches and Temperence Hill didn't have any serious intentions of running, but Winter's Tale figured to give Bid a decent battle.
When Winter's Tale was injured and scratched out of the race on Friday, Temperence Hill and Dr. Patches had a chance to win the easiest $40,000 of their lives. But even with that money available, trainer Joe Cantey was more concerned about seeing Temperence Hill voted the champion 3-year-old colt.
Getting him beaten by 20 lengths on national television would not have helped his prospects. Jan Nerud knew that Dr. Patches wasn't fully fit, and throwing him into a match race against the best racehorse on earth would hardly be salutary.
So Bid was left alone.
"I have mixed emotions," Bud Delp, Bid's trainer, said. "I would have liked to have met Winter's Tale because he's genuine. But I had said a few years ago that I would like to see Bid in a walkover and my dreams came true."
Delp had to give Bill Shoemaker, Bid's jockey, the simplest instruction of his long riding career: "Hold on."
Bid galloped the 1 1/4 miles in a good 2:02 2/5, with fractions of 26 1/5, 50 2/5, 1:14 1/5 and 1:38 1/5. The exercise served as a tuneup for his next start, the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 4. Bid earned $73,000 -- about half of what he would have earned in winning if the race were competitive -- for the most lucrative walkout in racing history. The rest of the purse went to the New York Racing Association.
He increased his all-time money-winning figure to $2,773,557.
Stymie was the last horse to win in a walkover in a major New York race, the Saratoga Cup in August, 1946.