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Andy Serling has been playing the horses for almost his entire life, and is currently the co-host of NYRA Live. To follow Andy on Twitter, click here.

In 1979, the truly great, and even remarkable, Spectacular Bid was set to become the third consecutive winner of the Triple Crown, and fourth in seven seasons. Since opening the eyes of racing fans with his devastating 15 length win in the World's Playground at Atlantic City, getting seven furlongs in 1:20 4/5, leaving his shorter priced rival Coastal 17 lengths behind, Spectacular Bid had run his winning streak to a remarkable twelve straight ( yes, that's 12 wins from September 23rd of his 2YO year through May 19th the following year ). The total margin of victory in those 12 wins, including the KY Derby and Preakness, was 76 1/2 lengths, or just under 6 1/2 lengths per win. With his impending Triple Crown victory appearing to be a mere formality following his 5 1/2 win in the Preakness, many racing fans were beginning to wonder if after a 25 year drought, from 1948 to 1973, suddenly the Triple Crown had become too easy to win. And then, eight days later, they ran the Peter Pan at Belmont Park.
Coastal was merely a blip on most people's radar after a non-descript 2YO season, which included two wins in five starts, including the aforementioned 17 length drubbing behind Spectacular Bid in the World's Playground, when he returned to make his 3YO debut on April 28th, one week to the day before Spectacular Bid won the KY Derby at 3:5. However, in just 29 days, Coastal opened a lot of eyes with three consecutive wins. After winning his six furlong comeback race at Aqueduct in 1:10 3/5, over a muddy track, by 1 3/4 lengths, he returned 15 days later, once again at Aqueduct in the mud, to win by eight lengths, while covering seven furlongs in 1:22 1/5. While these two wins hardly gained enormous attention, especially as it came in the midst of Spectacular Bid's Triple Crown wins, the William Haggin Perry runner, trained by David Whiteley, officially opened those eyes exactly two weeks later, this time at Belmont Park, when he won the Peter Pan, NY's Belmont Stakes prep, by 13 lengths ( who did he think he was, Spectacular Bid? ) stopping the clock at 1:47 for the nine furlongs. Suddenly, as Jerry Seinfeld once said, a new contender had emerged.
Coastal, a half brother to future champion Slew O' Gold, was no great underdog, especially after that explosive Peter Pan win, when he met the great " Bid " 13 days later. He was just 4:1 when he prevented the Triple Crown from being " cheapened " by a third straight conqueror. Whether or not you buy the story that Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin the morning of the Belmont Stakes, finishing a neck behind Golden Act, who he had drowned by 5 1/2 lengths in the Preakness, clearly demonstrated he did not run his best race that day. Or perhaps it was the 1 1/2 miles that got to him, as that was the only distance he lost at in his final 26 races. But, given that his next 1 1/2 mile loss was later that year at Belmont Park in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, to Triple Crown victor Affirmed, with Coastal three lengths back in third, it would be more than fair to say that perhaps the best horse did not win that day. But, don't let that diminish Coastal's immense talent. He followed his Belmont Stakes triumph with a four length win, over Private Account, in the Dwyer, once again covering nine furlongs in 1:47, and then an easy victory in the Monmouth Invitational ( later the Haskell ) in early August. After resting during Saratoga ( a wise choice given General Assembly's record setting Travers romp ), he returned in the Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park....and a rematch with the now rested Spectacular Bid. Bid tuned up for the Marlboro Cup with a 17 length gallop in a Delaware Park allowance, his first start since his Belmont Stakes loss. Unfortunately for Coastal, the real Spectacular Bid showed up that day, and Coastal could do no better than third, 1 1/4 lengths behind General Assembly, and 6 1/4 in total behind the Bid. As history would show, this was no disgrace.  Neither were his subsequent 2 1/2 length loss to Affirmed in the Woodward ( besting the very talented Billy Turner trained runner Czaravich by 3 3/4 lengths ), and previously discussed 3 3/4 loss to both Affirmed and Spectacular Bid in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which ended his racing career.
Spectacular Bid followed his loss to Affirmed with an easy win, 12 days later, in the Meadowlands Cup to close out his 3YO racing season. His 9-9 4YO season was truly the stuff that legends are made of. He finished his career with 26 wins, 2 seconds, and one third in 30 career starts, as well as a remarkable 24 for 24 in races from 7 to 10 furlongs. Thus, when some racing curmudgeons, like myself, complain that perhaps some horse over the last couple of decades might not have been Triple Crown worthy, remember that some of us saw Spectacular Bid fail in his attempt, which then some actually thought would cheapen the legacy of the Triple Crown. And we saw him fail to do it against a horse as immensely talented as Coastal. Believe me, those WERE the days.

Comments :

  • mark terminello | June 12 2011 09:40 AM

    "The Bid" was indeed to run one furlong faster than the next as only the incomparable Secretariat could.

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  • Chris | June 08 2011 12:54 PM

    Neat summary, Andy, of the 1979 Triple Crown season, and Spectacular Bid and Coastal's subsequent meetings. Certainly, the best horse did not win on Belmont Stakes Day.

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  • Belmont Bob | June 07 2011 09:49 PM

    Right on Andy, Bid was far and away the best non triple crown winner of the past 30 years. It was the Horror-show ride by Ronnie Franklin that cost Bid his day. ( perhaps just Coastal day.) When recalling the great racing of the 70'sThe Bid is right up there with Slew,Affirmed and Alyder.(only one Secretariat ). My favorite Spectacular Bid race is the walk over in the Woodward at Belmont. Pure goosebumps.

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  • Andy Serling | June 07 2011 08:15 PM

    John....I've seen the Florida Derby ride. It was special....that's for sure. Jaime.....if there was a Coastal in this field he would look like Risen Star at the eighth pole.

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  • Jaime Cabarrocas | June 07 2011 03:58 PM

    so, who's Coastal this year?

  • John Murphy | June 07 2011 08:49 AM

    I saw Bid's Preakness and I traveled to NY to see the Belmont. I was never so surprised in my entire 40+ years of horseracing fandom as I was the day that Bid lost the Belmont. I never considered the possibility. I'm not sure of the safety pin story. hmmm. It is arguably the trainer's job to find an excuse that will preserve the horses' reputation and value. There is also the theory that Franklin moved too early. Maybe. One thing I've always felt strongly about is that Delp should have put up a top jock before the triple crown, especially considering the Florida Derby ride. (check THAT out if you ever get a chance.) I believe Delp finally put up the Shoe for the Delaware race.

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