Fame in the homestretch

Horse racing: His work with Spectacular Bid and Include helped earn Maryland trainer Bud Delp a spot in the Hall of Fame.

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

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Grover G. "Bud" Delp set the course of his life when he was a teen-ager. He chose to accompany his stepfather, horse trainer Raymond B. Archer, to work early each morning rather than to mimic most teen-agers and sleep in.

"He didn't encourage me," Delp said of Archer. "He never woke me up in the morning. I had to get myself up."

A half-century later, Delp, 69, is being rewarded for a lifetime of devotion to horses. Today, he will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame, across the street from Saratoga Race Course.

Delp will join Cigar, who, like Delp, was born in Maryland, as well as the horses Serena's Song and Noor and jockey Jack Westrope as the newest inductees into thoroughbred racing's club of ultimate accomplishment.

Delp's ultimate accomplishment occurred during a three-year period beginning in 1978 with a dark gray colt of consummate grace and power named Spectacular Bid. He won 26 of 30 races and earned Eclipse awards each year he ran. In 1980, after winning all nine races, he was voted Horse of the Year.

That year, Delp earned the Eclipse Award as top trainer. However, he refused to attend the black-tie ceremony to pick up his award in protest of Spectacular Bid's owners, also from Maryland, not winning the Eclipse as outstanding owner.

Harry Meyerhoff, his then-wife, Teresa, and his son, Tom, owned Spectacular Bid. They chose to race the colt in 1980, when he was 4, rather than retire him, even though they had to spend about $1 million to insure him.

Delp was quoted in The Sun as saying, "I cannot in all good faith attend the Eclipse awards dinner, and I doubt that I will be missed too much."

The adjective most attached to Delp during the Spectacular Bid era was "brash." Yes, he was brash, he acknowledges, and he wasn't popular with racing's establishment and some of its most influential reporters.

Delp wasn't sure he would ever make it into the Hall of Fame. But now, he says, he's overwhelmed.

"People from the media kept telling me: `Bud, you need another good horse,' " Delp says. "If there was a hump I had to get over to get into the Hall of Fame, Include got me over it."

Include's victory last year in the Pimlico Special, a Grade I race with history and prestige, became the latest highlight in Delp's 40-year career of training thoroughbreds. He started training on his own in 1962 after an intense tutorship under Archer, his stepfather, commencing when Delp was 9.

That's when Delp's mother married Archer and moved her family onto Archer's horse farm in Bel Air. Delp's father, a dairy farmer, had drowned when Delp was 3.

"I just took a liking to horses," Delp said. "My mother wanted me to be something special. She wanted me to have a good education.

"But I flunked out of the University of Maryland after one semester. I even flunked out of ROTC. I wanted to get back to the horses."

Delp walked horses for Archer for $35 a week. He rode a pony, accompanying horses to the track. He eventually became Archer's foreman and, essentially, began training Archer's horses in the late 1950s.

Still, Delp worked so much in Archer's shadow that most people called him Buddy Archer. They didn't learn his name until it began showing up in the programs of 1962 after he took seven horses to Laurel and, in his words, "started winning and winning and winning."

Delp won with the first horse he saddled on his own, a horse named Our Rocky who earned $1,650 when Delp desperately needed the money. Within a few years, Delp became king of Maryland's claiming trainers, aggressively building a stable by buying horses out of claiming races, in which horses are for sale for a set price.

From 1967 to 1977, he ranked among the top 10 North American trainers in races won. And then, in 1978, he welcomed Spectacular Bid into his barn.

The Meyerhoffs had paid $37,000 for the son of Bold Ruler when he was a yearling. Under Delp's management, he won seven of nine races as a 2-year-old, 10 of 12 races as a 3-year-old and nine of nine races as a 4-year-old.

Spectacular Bid broke seven track records and equaled one. He still holds the world record for 1 1/4 miles on dirt (1 minute, 57 4/5 seconds), set in the 1980 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

He is probably the best horse not to win the Triple Crown. After winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1979, he finished third in the Belmont Stakes as the 3-10 favorite after stepping on a safety pin the morning of the race.

Delp will always be linked to the runner he proclaimed "the greatest horse ever to look through a bridle." But Delp has won nearly 3,600 races at a 21 percent clip.

He has won seven training championships at Pimlico Race Course, 10 at Delaware Park and titles at Gulfstream Park, Monmouth Park, Atlantic City Racecourse, Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course. In addition to Spectacular Bid and Include, he has trained such standouts as Dispersal, Sunny Sunrise, Sweet Alliance, Truly Bound and Western Echo.

"With Spectacular Bid, I knew what I had, but he had to be sitting on, ready to do what he did," said Delp, still winning and stabled at Laurel Park. "They don't go out there and run on their own.

"I'll always be associated with Spectacular Bid. And that's fine with me. Who wouldn't want to be associated with a great horse like that? But I've won more than 3,500 races, and Bid won 26 of them."

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