While he was training Spectacular Bid, Bud Delp never seemed to quiet down for a minute. He was constantly proclaiming that this was "the greatest horse who ever looked through a bridle"; he was often wrangling with racing secretaries, stewards and jockeys. And he was always worrying about the well-being of his multimillion-dollar animal. "Those three years were tough," he said. "There was a weight on my shoulders for a long, long time."
But when he arrived here this month to run Timeless Native in Saturday's Travers Stakes, Delp was a man at peace with himself. He has already faced the greatest challenge of his career, and he performed so masterfully that he has almost nothing left to prove.
Few trainers have operated at the opposite ends of the thoroughbred sport and excelled at both, as Delp did. In Maryland. he was the master wheeler-dealer with claiming horses; he dominated the sport so thoroughly in the 1960s that he spawned a horde of imitators.
Men who spend their careers patching up the ankles and knees of battle-scarred $5,000 animals may dream about training a potential champion, but the few who get the chance usually aren't prepared to cope with the pressures at that level of the sport.
At first, people thought Delp wasn't cut out to manage a horse like Spectacular Bid, because he didn't talk or act like the conservative horsemen who manage the country's top racing stables. None of those traditionalists would keep telling the world how great a horse was, but Delp wouldn't harness his natural ebullience. "I wasn't bragging or looking for the spotlight," he said. "I was just so happy, so elated, to have that horse!"
If Delp's personal style was atypical, his management of Spectacular Bid was classic, and almost flawless. He won the 2-year-old championship, the 3-year-old championship and the horse-of-the-year title when the colt was 4. Spectacular Bid went to stud with such a lofty reputation that one of his yearling sons was sold for $3 million here last week.
When Spectacular Bid was retired, Delp was a wealthy man and he had the luxury of choosing what he wanted to do with the rest of his career. And his first choice was not to go back to Maryland.
"I left there because I was being harassed by (stewards) J. Fred Colwill and Clinton Pitts," he said. "Neither one of them deserves to be up there in the stewards' stand. I want to go where they treat Delp like everybody else, and there are no prejudiced stewards in the stands in California, in Nebraska, in Kentucky."
Asked to respond, both Colwill and Clinton said today they preferred not to comment.
Delp's antipathy toward the Maryland stewards stems from the time he slapped an exercise rider whose horse almost slammed into Bid in the morning training hours. The stewards gave him a 20-day suspension for the transgression, and he has never forgotten it.
He also doesn't like Maryland's restrictions on the use of the drugs Lasix and Butazolidin. "If it wasn't for Bute," he said, "Bid would have run one time as a 4-year-old. It was either use Bute or retire him."
So instead of going to Maryland, Delp took his stable to New Orleans, and promptly won the training championship at the Fair Grounds. "I didn't want people thinking I was resting on my laurels," he said. He will campaign there each winter, and, starting next season, he will spend the spring and summer months in either California or New York. He wants to go to a top-class racing area, because next year he plans to have some top-class horses--the first sons and daughters of Spectacular Bid.
"I'll have seven Spectacular Bids next year, and another dozen the year after that," Delp said. "I've liked almost all of them I've seen. Bid is marking his horses: they've all got good hind quarters and tough, solid bones."
Clearly, Delp does not plan to spend the remainder of his career resting on his laurels--even though he has every right to do so.