`Spectacular' still passes test of time

26-year-old legend, winner of 26 of 30 races, gets 300 visitors a year

Horse Racing

August 05, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

UNADILLA, N.Y. - You could always dispute the validity of Bud Delp's claim that Spectacular Bid was the greatest horse ever to look through a bridle. But with the death in May of Seattle Slew, few, if any, would argue that Spectacular Bid is the greatest thoroughbred racehorse alive.

The winner of 26 of 30 races - including the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness - resides at Milfer Farm in remote Unadilla, N.Y., 50 miles north of the Pennsylvania border. He is 26 and stunningly beautiful.

Spectacular Bid's light-gray coat is a collection of spots - rust-colored, gray, black - like a Georges Seurat canvas. His flowing mane and tail cast a golden, ethereal glow, as if illuminated from within.

Dr. Jonathan Davis, owner of Milfer Farm, says Spectacular Bid receives about 300 visitors a year. That number would be much larger if Spectacular Bid lived at the Kentucky Horse Park, as Cigar and John Henry do, or even a Kentucky farm on the tourist route.

That is where he began his stallion career after his undefeated season in 1980. The gray Spectacular Bid and the chestnut Secretariat frolicked in adjacent paddocks at Claiborne Farm near Lexington, Ky.

Spectacular Bid's stud fee of $150,000 reflected the inflated hope with which breeders greeted his arrival at stud. He proved a disappointment.

Davis is fond of saying: "He's gotten a lot of criticism that he hasn't cloned himself. But as the Meyerhoffs say, `How can you clone Superman?' "

Spectacular Bid relocated to Milfer Farm in 1991. He stands for $3,500. This year he bred 34 thoroughbreds and five mares from the sport-horse world (dressage and other Olympic-type competition), Davis says.

In 1995, during an episode of colic, Spectacular Bid injured his right front ankle. He underwent two surgeries, one that year and one the next. Doctors fused the ankle. Spectacular Bid now romps through his paddock with ease - relative ease for an old-timer.

Joel Reach, farm manager, raises Simmental-beef cattle, and he or his son Justin sometimes releases Spectacular Bid into a paddock with cows. He seems to enjoy the company, or at least to tolerate it in his regal manner.

"Sometimes you can't even see him because of all the cows around him," Justin says.

"People come to see him, and they'll stand there and cry," Justin says. "They can't believe they're standing next to Spectacular Bid. ... That horse who won the Kentucky Derby this year, who will remember him? But this horse, he will never be forgotten."

Spectacular Bid's career

As a 2-year-old: 7 wins in 9 starts. $384,484 earnings.

As a 3-year-old: 10 wins in 12 starts. $1,279,333 earnings.

As a 4-year-old: 9 wins in 9 starts. $1,117,790 earnings.

Career record: 30 starts. 26 wins. 2 seconds. 1 third. $2,781,607 earnings.

Eclipse awards: 2-year-old male in 1978, 3-year-old male in 1979, older male in 1980, Horse of the Year in 1980.

Milestones: Broke seven track records and equaled another. He still holds the world record for 1 1/4 miles on dirt (1 minute, 57 4/5 seconds). ... He won at 15 tracks in nine states. He carried 130 pounds or more to victory five times. ... Except for his showdown with Affirmed in the 1979 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Spectacular Bid was bet down to at least 3-5 odds in his last 21 contested races. His final race, the 1980 Woodward Stakes, was a walkover. No one would race against him.

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