Trainer steered `Bid' in '79 quest

Racing Hall of Famer was native of Bel Air

Bud Delp 1932-2006

December 31, 2006|By Kent Baker and Mike Klingaman | Kent Baker and Mike Klingaman,SUN REPORTERS

Grover G. "Bud" Delp, a Maryland thoroughbred trainer who became nationally known for his work with Spectacular Bid, died Friday of cancer at his home in Ellicott City. He was 74.

Ebullient, sassy and blustery, Delp gained a reputation worldwide during the 1979 Triple Crown campaign of Spectacular Bid, the iron-gray colt who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, then finished third in the Belmont Stakes after a safety pin was discovered embedded in his hoof.

Delp, a native of Bel Air, often proclaimed the horse was "the best that ever looked through a bridle" and, once before the Derby, told a confidant: "If bull was electricity, I'd be a power plant."

Inducted into horse racing's Hall of Fame in 2002, Delp saddled 3,674 winners for nearly $41 million in a 44-year career that began at Laurel Park in 1962. He also won stakes races with 70 different horses.

"Bud won with good horses and he won with bad horses. He won on the East Coast and he won on the West Coast," said John Alecci, a trainer based at Laurel Park. "I don't see how a man could accomplish more than he did."

Along the way, Delp squabbled with track managements, the state stewards, the New York Racing Association, and, occasionally, his own employees.

"He was straightforward and expected straight answers to his questions," said Dale Capuano, a top trainer nationally. "Bud was genuine; there was nothing phony about him. He told it as he saw it."

Raised on a farm, Delp followed his stepfather, Raymond Archer, into the racing business, working at local tracks as a teenager. After a stint in the Army and his discharge in 1954, he began work for Archer full time.

A 1964 barn fire that killed 32 of Delp's horses nearly wiped out his stable, but he regrouped and improved by claiming scores of pluggers and turning many of them into winners. By the end of the following meeting - at Pimlico - he was second in the trainer standings.

During the 1970s, Delp was a top claiming trainer in the Mid-Atlantic region, winning titles at Laurel, Bowie, Pimlico, Delaware Park and Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

"He could take any kind of horse - from a major leaguer to a minor leaguer - and get the most out of it," Capuano said. "Bud set the bar pretty high."

Delp loved buying up bargains and watching them win.

"It's like poker," he once said of the cutthroat claiming game. "You study the other guy, get his moves down, his way of training horses. You have to be deceptive. That's why I was successful at it.

"I loved it."

Delp conditioned numerous stakes winners, including Sunny Sunrise and Dispersal, each of whom won more than $1 million in purses. But he struck gold with Spectacular Bid, a three-time champion. At age 4, the horse went undefeated in nine races as Delp won an Eclipse Award as the country's top trainer.

The stallion retired to stud with 26 victories in 30 starts, seven track records and $2,781,608 in earnings - then the best of all time. The horse died in 2003.

If Spectacular Bid thrust Delp into the spotlight, the horse also put him on the hot seat. The trainer moved Spectacular Bid from Laurel to Bowie because he felt the living quarters and track conditions at the former were substandard.

Even then, Delp always walked several strides in front of the horse en route to the track, picking up stones, lest Spectacular Bid injure himself stepping on one.

In 1978, the Maryland stewards handed Delp a 20-day suspension for "slapping around an exercise rider" whom he felt had interfered with his jockey, Ron Franklin, while both were mounted during workouts on the track. As a result, Delp threatened to withdraw Spectacular Bid from the Laurel Futurity.

The trainer also chewed out Franklin several times, particularly after his ride on Spectacular Bid in the 1979 Florida Derby, but stuck with the young jockey through Franklin's several bouts with drug addiction.

Delp also feuded with the New York racing establishment after the safety-pin incident in the Belmont Stakes and almost singlehandedly destroyed the prestigious New York Fall Championship for older horses.

With the charismatic Spectacular Bid in hand, Delp scratched from the Marlboro Cup when he was dissatisfied with the weight assignments, bluffed all the competition out of the 1980 Woodward Stakes (a walkover for Spectacular Bid, the first in a major stakes race in 31 years) and scratched out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Delp also had a row with the Maryland Racing Commission over its ban of the therapeutic medications, Lasix and Butazoladin.

In 1980, Delp - still miffed at his earlier suspension and charging that Laurel had `'hit bottom" - left Maryland and moved his headquarters to Chicago. He competed throughout the Midwest and California for a time and spent winters in New Orleans. But after purses were raised in Maryland and improvements made in its physical plants, he returned home.

After defeating one of Delp's horses in a stakes race in 1998, trainer A. Ferris Allen jokingly said it was an honor to beat "the best trainer that ever put on a bridle."

Delp's son, Gerald Delp, followed his father into the profession and now competes locally.

Tomorrow marks the final race listing Bud Delp as trainer. The horse is Crafty Bear, a 9-5 favorite. The race is the $90,000 Dancing Count Stakes at Laurel Park.

Delp is survived by his wife of 24 years, Regina; sons Gerald, of Churchville, Pa.; Doug, of Chester, Pa.; and Cleve, of Ellicott City; a daughter, Pajeen, of Wilmington, N.C.; and two grandsons.

At Delp's request, there will be no memorial service.

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