Review of “The Fast Ride”

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Even with the two recent Triple Crown winners, I admit that I have not been much of a horse racing fan since the 1970’s – but what a decade that was for the sport.  One of the great horses from that time, Spectacular Bid, is featured in this book that takes a hard look at his trainer and jockey.  Fantastic read that even non-fans would enjoy.  Here is my review of “The Fast Ride”

Title/Author: “The Fast Ride: Spectacular Bid and the Undoing of a Sure Thing” by Jack Gilden

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review: The decade of the 1970’s was considered to be one of the best in horse racing history.  After not having a Triple Crown winner in 25 years, the decade saw three horses accomplish that feat – Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.  In 1979, a horse named Spectacular Bid had many qualities to be the fourth in the decade and third in a row to join that exclusive club. This excellent book by Jack Gilden tells a tale of what could have been and the many factors that kept the “Bid” (what he calls the horse throughout the book) from winning that coveted title.

While his jockey was a young newcomer to the sport, teenager Ronnie Franklin had already ridden the Bid to the winner’s circle before the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. From his humble beginnings in Dundalk, a factory town near Baltimore, Franklin found himself becoming immersed in the business of horse racing under the tutelage of legendary trainer Buddy Delp. While he was becoming an overnight sensation to the fans and public, underneath the surface was an ugly picture of substance abuse, horrific working conditions and treatment at Delp’s stables and unkind treatment by fellow jockeys and the press. 

When the Bid won the Derby and the Preakness Stakes, that put even more pressure on the young jockey when the toughest of the three races arrived, the Belmont Stakes.  Delp instructed Franklin to run Spectacular Bid hard right from the gate, in complete contrast to the manner in which horse and rider won the previous two races.  Following his boss’s order, the Bid failed to win the Crown and even worse, Delp, the press and the public blamed Franklin for the horse’s downfall when there were many reasons behind the poor showing by the Bid.

That is what makes this book so good – Gilden’s writing about those other factors in not only why the Bid lost that race, but the entire picture behind the fall of Franklin.  There was a lot of drug abuse in the Delp stables, led by Buddy himself and his son Gerald, who became Franklin’s best friend and led him down a destructive path.  The owner of the horse, Harry Meyerhoff, also plays a role in the downfall of the Triple Crown path and even a horse doctor who was not supposed be on Belmont property but on the day of the race performed a procedure on Spectacular Bid to remove a pin from his hoof that would have otherwise been certain to keep him from running that day.

Gilden gleaned his information from interviews as much of the story that he writes was not published.  He cited three main contributors for which he gave enormous praise in the acknowledgments – Gerald Delp, Franklin’s nephew Tony Cullum and Cathy Rosenberger, who was a long-time employee of Buddy Delp and helped develop Franklin as a jockey.  From these interviews, Gilden gathered enough information that behind the beauty and speed in which Spectacular Bid ran his races – he would go on to win some more races after the Triple Crown – the ugly story of what happened on that Saturday in June 1979 is now being brought to light.  Gilden takes the reader inside the stables and development of a jockey and a race horse in a manner that shows both the beauty and the ugliness of this sport.  This is a book anyone interested in horse racing, especially during that era, must add to their bookshelf.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link: The Fast Ride: Nebraska Press (unl.edu)

 

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