June of 1979 seems along time ago as almost two-thirds of my life has taken place since then. As someone who was starting college later that fall in New York with a growing passion for horse racing and having an Aunt and an Uncle with varying degrees of interest in the sport, I went out to the Big Apple for Spectacular Bid's quest to follow in the footsteps of Seattle Slew and Affirmed, which would have made it three straight years with a Triple Crown winner.
Since I was not one of those weaned on racing by going to the track with my father (not a racing fan), my start following the sport of kings didn't take place until my teenage years with Affirmed's victory over Alydar on the first Saturday in May was the first Kentucky Derby I remember watching. It was around this time of my life when I read 'Picking Winners' by Andrew Beyer and 'Betting Thoroughbreds' by Steve Davidowitz...books which really had an significant impact on my growth in knowledge of the game from a betting perspective.
People like horse racing for different reasons. Many, like yours truly, love each race being a unique challenge with an opportunity to profit if being able to put the pieces of the handicapping puzzle together. Other, like my Aunt and Uncle, like it for the beauty and majesty of the animals.
Aunt Barbara loved to ride horses and worked for Viking Press, which produced books on Seattle Slew and Steve Cauthen just after their Triple Crown successes. I particularly remember getting a manilla envelope in the mail a couple of weeks after Affirmed won the Belmont with a manuscript of the final chapter of Pete Axthelm's 'The Kid', added because of the amazing circumstances going around Cauthen's life at the time and the epic battles with Alydar. Uncle Emil just loved aminals, he was the head veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo for many years. Spectacular Bid had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness of his generation rather easily and entered the Belmont as an overwhelming favorite. But unlike having read a heart-warming story of a cheap and unheralded horse overcoming the odds and a teenager riding a Triple Crown winner...the brashness and cockiness of Buddy Delp turned me completely off. Having the arrogance to use Ronnie Franklin (a truly unlikeable character at the time) as the jockey for the supposed 'greatest horse ever to wear a bridle' was just one of many things to me made the Bid a horse to root against instead of one to root for.
It was a given, a formality there would be a third straight Triple Crown winner and fourth since 1973. Yours truly was under the warped impression this happened almost every year, having also heard the story of Secretariat as well during my formative years in racing. There were stories in the press, incredibly laughable now 33 years later, about the Triple Crown being too EASY to win and what sort of changes needed to take place to make it more exciting. I'm ashamed to admit given when I had started following the sport and with what I knew at the time, those stories made a bit of sense to me back then. Now, of course, we have similar laughable stories in the press, about the Triple Crown being too difficult to win.
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So, it was out to the Belmont that fateful afternoon with Aunt Barbara and Uncle Emil when the amazing streak without a Triple Crown winner began in earnest. All the two of them wanted to do was to look at the beautiful horses and we pretty much stayed on the first floor all day with my discovery of all of Belmont Park having to wait until school began in the fall. I just wanted to see Spectacular Bid lose...as history would prove to me, for all of the wrong reasons.
I wanted to see Spectacular Bid lose because I thought the horse was overrated, the human connections were too overconfident, and as a typical American sports fan, I have been trained when in doubt to root for the underdog. Oh yeah, one other small thing, I rooted against Spectacular Bid because I thought another Triple Crown winner at the time would be boring.
Over the years, there have some of other ten would-be Triple Crown chasers I have rooted for such as Smarty Jones and Funny Cide while there have been others such as Real Quiet and Charismatic who I have rooted against with Big Brown being one who I had mixed feelings about. In the fwiw department, I'll Have Another falls in the mixed feelings department for a couple of reasons...I certainly don't think he's a dominant sort while having the trainer of a Triple Crown winner scheduled to go on suspension July 1st can't be good though obviously the Mario Gutierrez story is positive and horse racing, at least for a brief time, will get more attention in the public eye. History will me made Saturday at Belmont Park, one way or another. Either the longest stretch without a Triple Crown winner will be broken by I'll Have Another or it will simply continue another year. One thing for sure, it won't be boring.
note 1 - Buddy Delp was a great guy from what I got to know about him later in life, having been in the Paddock Pub at Arlington Park on some occasions when he was around as well.
note 2 - I rooted incredibly hard for Affirmed later in 1979 when he easily beat Spectacular Bid in the Jockey Club Gold Cup
note 3 - Spectacular Bid was an AWESOME horse, amazing in his four-year-old campaign and easily the best horse not to have won the Triple Crown since Affirmed.