Spectacular Bid: Three different looks

The rich genre of equine histories added a new title for a story familiar to Mid-Atlantic racing fans last year. Author Jack Gilden’s The Fast Ride: Spectacular Bid and the Undoing of a Sure Thing joined two previously released titles about Spectacular Bid, with his take on this superhorse focusing on a new angle about this moment in racing. 

Spectacular Bid is on the very short list of the greatest racehorses of all time, with his trainer, Grover “Bud” Delp, calling him the “greatest horse to look through a bridle.” The Bid won 26 of his 30 career starts, set five track records in his four-year-old season, and to this day, more than 40 years after his career ended, holds the world record for 1 ¼ miles on dirt of 1:57 ⅘.

For fans familiar with the steel-gray colt, this new tome explores the history of racing around Baltimore as it shares the behind-the-scenes story of jockey Ronnie Franklin, trainer Grover “Bud” Delp, and the forces at play behind the meteoric rise of this Hall of Famer. 

The three books available on the Bid offer readers different perspectives on this singular horse. Separately, they offer readers a version of the story of the Bid and the people behind him. Together, these construct a rich portrait of this dual classic winner, the history of racing in Maryland, and that infamous safety pin.

Spectacular Bid (Thoroughbred Legends series) by Timothy Capps – published 2001

The 24  books of the Thoroughbred Legends series covered greats from Affirmed and Alydar to War Admiral in small volumes available in both hardcover and softcover. Timothy Capps chronicled the Bid’s career in less than 150 pages, giving readers an overview of the human connections that came together to see the gray colt through his thirty-start career.

The Legends books are all of similar lengths – save for Secretariat’s for obvious reasons – and easily readable over the course of a day. These are great avenues for racing fans to learn more about familiar names from the 20th century. By necessity, Capps’s recaps of the Bid’s 30 starts vary in lengths, with just a page devoted to the Bid’s loss in the Belmont Stakes but nearly three pages covering the race’s aftermath, including the infamous safety pin. 

Capps’s look at Spectacular Bid’s life and career may not be detailed in the way that the next two books are, but it is definitely worth adding to any library of books about great Thoroughbreds. Currently, the series is available secondhand through resellers such as eBay and ThriftBooks. 

Spectacular Bid: The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century by Peter Lee – published 2019

From author Peter Lee comes this examination of the Bid’s life, career, and legacy since his record-breaking seasons on the racetrack. This book picks up where Capps’s leaves off,  going into the kind of depth that the shorter format does not allow. Lee explores the background behind the Bid’s breeding, his sale to the Meyerhoffs, his time in Bud Delp’s barn, and more. 


The notorious safety pin incident before the Belmont Stakes gets a more in-depth treatment with Lee recounting the day’s event from groom Mo Hall’s discovery that the colt had managed to pry off one of the safety pins from his leg wraps and then stepped on it overnight to Bud Delp’s decision to run the colt in the last leg of the Triple Crown despite being concerned about the aftermath of those hours with that pin embedded in the colt’s hoof. From Ronnie Franklin’s worries in the starting gate to the disbelief that accompanied the third-place finish, Lee shares the details he gleaned not only from contemporary sources, but also from those who had been a part of the story themselves. 

Lee conducted multiple interviews with the Bid’s connections, including Franklin; journalists who covered the gray colt’s career, including Andrew Beyer; and others involved in the Bid’s career on the track and off. He couples that access to those who were part of the story with judicious research about the horse’s pedigree, his 30 starts, and more. This exploration of Spectacular Bid is one characteristic of the Horses in History imprint from the University Press of Kentucky, a smart, well-written look at Spectacular Bid and his impact on the track and off. 

This book is available from your favorite bookseller, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the University Press of Kentucky’s website. 

The Fast Ride: Spectacular Bid and the Undoing of a Sure Thing by Jack Gilden – published 2022

The latest addition to this list is Jack Gilden’s examination of the human side of Spectacular Bid’s story. The horses are not the primary focus here; rather, it is the humans who make the sport and the contexts that produce them. 

The intricacies of Baltimore and the culture that produced men like Bud Delp and Ronnie Franklin are on display here. Equine pedigrees are less of a focus than human ones, as Gilden explores the backgrounds of jockey, trainer, and owner, sharing the Meyerhoff contributions to Maryland through their real estate, philanthropic, and sporting pursuits. 

The Bid brings them all together, but Gilden’s focus is on the people behind him, sharing Delp’s mentorship of Franklin, which in Gilden’s telling included an introduction to cocaine and more; the jockey’s run-ins with Angel Cordero and the substance abuse that derailed his career and life; and the ruthlessness of trainer, owner, and others in their business dealings on the track and off. This detailing of the unsavory habits of the track’s inhabitants becomes another layer of detail added to the run-in with a safety pin before the Belmont Stakes.

Gilden shares that groom Mo Hall imbibed alcohol with the same enthusiasm that Delp was known to, but he was able to hold his liquor in a way that made his drunkenness less obvious. Whereas Lee says that Hall forgot to sprinkle the pepper on the safety pins, Gilden says that Hall neglected to tape over the pins to keep the Bid from messing with the leg wraps. 

That led to the same hand-wringing and other pre-race conversations about the Bid’s soundness prior to the Belmont. Gilden also adds a new wrinkle: a visit from veterinarian Dr. Alex Harthill, the infamous practitioner who had been banned from Belmont Park’s backside at that time. This newest exploration of the Bid’s moment adds details that expose a darker side of those involved with the gray colt, with the racing running parallel with these revelations. 

Published by the University of Nebraska Press, The Fast Ride is available from your favorite online bookseller, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Press’ website.