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Ronnie Franklin (1959–2018), jockey almost won the Triple Crown

by Kirk Fox

Won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1979 aboard Spectacular Bid.

BALTIMORE (AP) — Ronnie Franklin, who rode Spectacular Bid to victory in the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness before their Triple Crown try was derailed in the Belmont, has died. He was 58. 

Franklin’s nephew, Walter Cullum, said the former Maryland-based jockey died of lung cancer in Baltimore on Thursday. 


Franklin was 19 when he guided Spectacular Bid to victory as a 3-5 favorite in the Kentucky Derby. After winning the Preakness by 5½ lengths, Franklin’s bid to capture the Triple Crown ended in the Belmont when Spectacular Bid finished third. 

The colt stepped on a safety pin in his stall before the race. 

In the 1½-mile Belmont, Spectacular Bid chased a speedy longshot early in the race and tired in the stretch. Franklin was blamed for the loss by the horse’s trainer. 

A week later, Franklin was arrested for possession of cocaine.

He never rode Spectacular Bid again, having been replaced by Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker, who guided the colt to a dominant 4-year-old season. 

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Franklin rode 1,403 winners in 9,242 starts from 1978-92 and had purse earnings of more than $14 million. He won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding apprentice jockey. 

The Belmont was a crushing defeat, but Cullum said Franklin labeled his time aboard Spectacular Bid as “the highlight” of his career. 

“He was so proud of that,” Cullum said. 

Franklin struggled with substance abuse in the ensuing years and was repeatedly denied licenses from state commissions because of his problems.

But Cullum insisted Franklin “had been clean for years” before his death. 

Cullum said Franklin was working with horses in California when diagnosed with cancer in March 2017. Franklin returned to Baltimore to receive treatment, and he and Cullum spent many an afternoon crabbing. 

Cullum was 5 years old when Franklin rode Spectacular Bid, and his uncle’s success inspired the young boy to follow in his footsteps. Cullum had more than 4,000 mounts before retiring in 2010. 

Born Dec. 20, 1959, in Baltimore, Franklin grew up the youngest of six children in the hardscrabble area of Dundalk. He dropped out of high school at 16 and headed for the local racetrack looking for work. 

Franklin met trainer Bud Delp, who hired him as a stablehand, and Franklin began learning the racing business from the ground up. Delp became a father figure to Franklin, taking him in to live with his family. 

Delp sent Franklin to a training center in Middleburg, Virginia, where he developed a rapport with the young Spectacular Bid. The horse won seven of nine races and was named the nation’s champion 2-year-old before his Triple Crown campaign. 

Franklin is survived by his mother, Marian; brother, Tony Franklin; and four sisters, Sharon Wallace, Carolyn Franklin, Barbara Kaminkow and Nancy Fram. 

A private service is planned. 

We invite you to share condolences for Ronnie Franklin in his Guest Book.


AP Racing Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report. 

Written by David Ginsburg

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