Jockey Ronnie Franklin, who rode Spectacular Bid to victories in the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness as a teenager, has died from lung cancer at the age of 58, according to Daily Racing Form.
Franklin was hired by future Hall of Fame trainer Bud Delp in Maryland when he dropped out of high school at 16. After mucking out stalls and walking hots, Franklin was sent to a training center to learn to ride. He rode his first winner for Delp in February 1978 and by year's end secured an Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice jockey.
Delp entrusted him to ride a talented 2-year-old for Harry and Teresa Meyerhoff's Hawksworth Farm, and by year's end that colt, Spectacular Bid, won the Eclipse Award as champion juvenile.
As a 3-year-old, Spectacular Bid won five consecutive stakes leading up to the Triple Crown, but there were signs of trouble for Franklin, particularly after the Florida Derby when Delp called the young rider “an idiot” and threatened to replace him on the champion after The Bid found trouble several times in the race.
“Oh, I know that at first he looked like a mucksack,” Delp told the Washington Post's Andrew Beyer. “But we talked horses every night, sat and analyzed every race he rode. It helped him to come along. And he helps me. He's like a little trainer out there. He's a horseman. When I leave the track after Ronnie's ridden, I'm satisfied 99 percent of the time.”
Spectacular Bid, who the late Delp called “the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle,” won the first two legs of the Triple Crown easily enough, but suffered a shocking defeat in the Belmont Stakes when Franklin chased a fast pace, moved to the lead too soon and was cooked at the top of the stretch. It was the last time he rode the horse.
Shortly thereafter Franklin was arrested in the Disneyland parking lot in Anaheim, Calif., for possession of cocaine. Substance abuse would plague him for years, eventually resulting in a permanent license revocation in Maryland.
Franklin tried to get reinstated and worked as an exercise for a time at an unlicensed off-track training center.
Daily Racing Form reported Franklin is survived by his mother, Marian, a brother, and four sisters. There will be a private service.
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