ELMONT, N.Y. -- Bud Delp is back.
The man who trained Spectacular Bid from 1978 to 1980 did not disappear during the last decade. He just stepped out of the limelight. He spent those years training the type of fair to middling horses that he dealt with before he developed the great Kentucky Derby winner and horse of the year.
He felt like a poker player who had become accustomed to gambling in high-stakes, pot-limit games and now was sitting down at a $5 table. It was sometimes hard to get interested.
"I don't particularly enjoy going to the races any more unless there are good horses running," Delp said. "What I do still love is the morning part of the job -- being at the barn every day. I have 25 horses, eight of them nonclaimers, and I enjoy going out and training them."
Delp may have looked on training horses as a pleasant pastime instead of the pressure-cooker job of the Spectacular Bid years. But suddenly he finds himself playing in the highest-stakes game in the thoroughbred world. For weeks he has been working to overcome a foot injury that has afflicted his talented colt, Dispersal. His efforts seem to have been successful enough that on Saturday he will saddle the morning-line favorite in the world's richest race, the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
Delp always felt Dispersal had the makings of a top-class colt, and he harbored Kentucky Derby aspirations in the spring of 1989. But Dispersal was continually plagued with shin problems, and didn't fully prove his class until the fall, when he won the $500,000 NYRA Mile at Aqueduct and then finished third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint -- a race he might well have won if he hadn't been rammed as he left the starting gate.
Dispersal suffered more physical setbacks again this season, but he finally hit his stride this summer in the Midwest, winning a series of stakes against minor competition that prompted Delp to send him east for the rich and prestigious Woodward Handicap at Belmont Park. Dispersal was magnificent. He dashed to the lead and stayed there all the way, running the 1 1/8 miles in a phenomenal 1:45 4/5 -- just two ticks slower than Secretariat's world record.
In a year when so many of the country's top horses have been injured -- Sunday Silence, Easy Goer, Criminal Type -- Dispersal had seemingly become No. 1 and established himself as the favorite for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Delp might have savored this prospect on the way from his seat to the winner's circle, but as soon as he saw his horse's foot he dismissed all thoughts of the $3 million race.
"Blood was flying out of his foot," Delp said. "While they were taking his picture, they had to come in with hoses to get the blood away."
Dispersal had, in racetrack parlance, "grabbed his quarter" as he was leaving the gate; he had kicked the outside quarter of his left front foot with his rear foot. "It was like you'd taken a knife and sliced the meaty part of the foot," Delp said. "I've never seen one that bad. And he'd also cracked part of the hoof itself."
The veterinarian treating Dispersal, Bob Fritz, put six stitches in the foot. Then he called in a specialist, Judd Butler, who attached a fiberglass patch to Dispersal's foot, inserted 10 screws into the hoof area to hold the patch to the foot and put an aluminum plate on the shoe to absorb the pressure when Dispersal's foot hit the ground.
Delp watched and marveled. "Five or six years ago, a horse would have been a basket case for months if this had happened to him. And when they took the stitches out, the area still looked like raw meat. But Doc Fritz said, 'You can train him like he's normal. Don't worry about the foot.' "
Dispersal had missed nine days of training -- a crucial loss before a race of such magnitude as the the Classic. But when he got back into action, he behaved just as the vet said he would -- as if the injury didn't exist. Delp marveled again at the miracles of modern medicine: "The guys working on this horse have been phenomenal."
Dispersal has been training sharply, but Delp still has his share of justifiable worries. The time he lost because of the injury may hurt him. The 1 1/4-mile distance of the Classic may be slightly farther than Dispersal's best. The colt has been a bleeder in the past, and he won't be able to use Lasix.
These are just the kind of concerns Delp has wanted to have since Spectacular Bid retired.