In the late 1970s, a horse named Spectacular Bid caught the eye of the horse racing community, as did its jockey, Ronnie Franklin.
Spectacular Bid was impressive from the start and seemed like a shoo-in for the Triple Crown in 1979. After winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, his fate seemed set.
On the morning of the Belmont Stakes, however, Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin, according to the story, and there were questions about whether trainer Buddy Delp would pull him out of the running. To throw more wrench into the ongoing Triple Crown work, his jockey, Franklin, reportedly ran him hard, perhaps too hard, before the race – the longest in the Triple Crown – and the seemingly tired horse finished. third.
This was Franklin’s last time riding Spectacular Bid. Bill Shoemaker took over as jockey after the unfortunate and ill-prepared horse’s winning streak ended.
Franklin’s rise to fame with Spectacular Bid, and his fall from grace afterwards, have now been told candidly by Baltimore author Jack Gilden, whose book, “The Fast Ride: Spectacular and the Undoing of a Sure Thing” offers a look at the golden world of horse racing, as well as its sordid side.
It tells the story of Franklin’s first rise to fame, when Delp wrenched him from his shadowy job at a Roy Rogers restaurant.
“He showed up on the track,” Gilden said, and Delp made him a “hot-walker” — someone who walks racehorses before and after a race to level them — then, relatively quickly , a jockey.
Gilden’s book looks at Franklin’s rise as a jockey, which had been attributed to Delp, and his fall through hard times, which included drug use — also, Gilden said, under the influence of Delp.
Franklin, Gilden said in a phone interview this week, was from Dundalk, Maryland, a part of the Baltimore metropolitan area that is still “a very working-class town. A city of the metallurgist type.
With Delp giving Franklin “every perk,” including a place to live, Gilden said, the jockey quickly became a source of income for the wealthy man. He said that, while researching for the book, “As I delved into it, I discovered a totally corrupt society.
“The kid was very intimidated,” Gilden said of Franklin. At the height of his success, “he was buying medicine for the whole family.
As he progressed in his research for “Spectacular Bid and the Undoing of a Sure Thing”, Gilden said he gained the trust of Delp and Franklin family members, who confirmed the prevalence of drug use.
“You could see this kid had just wandered into this amazing world,” he said.
Meanwhile, the horse itself had become a star.
“Everyone knew it was a Triple Crown horse,” he said of Spectacular Bid. “But everyone also knew he wasn’t just a Triple Crown horse. He was a horse for the ages,” Gilden said.
And the story of horse and jockey has become intertwined in a narrative that also tells the story of a town and its people at a particular time in history.
“You have all these wild things” happening, Gilpen said. He was increasingly drawn to the story, he said, as Franklin’s life came to an end in 2018.
Gilden said he met Sandra Meyer, director of adult programming at the Frankford Public Library, at an alumni event at Washington College they both attended in the 1980s.
Having seen the positive publicity for Gilden’s first book, “Collision of Wills: Johnny Unitas, Don Shula and the Rise of the Modern NFL”, Meyer asked him to come to Frankford and talk about his latest work.
Jack Gilden will speak about his latest book, “Spectacular Bid and the Undoing of a Sure Thing” at the Frankford Public Library at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday May 21. The library is located at 8 Main Street, Frankford. Free entry.