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John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Hall of Fame: An Honor Cherished by All


SARATOGA SPRINGS, April 24, 2012—Hall of Famer Ghostzapper. Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, Hall of Famer John Velazquez. Hall of Famer Robert Wheeler. Does any other qualifier eclipse that label for those practitioners of Thoroughbred racing?

“I’m very honored,” said Johnny Velazquez, encapsulating his 22 year career, one that he intends to “extend for many years if I can stay healthy,” said Velazquez on Monday’s conference call.

”I’m not sure I ever thought about it,” said Roger Attfield who came to North America from England in 1970. “I was told that if you wanted to work hard, you would get respect and do well.”

That would be understating his achievements as an eight-time Queen’s Plate, the Kentucky Derby of Canada, and developer of three Canadian Triple Crown champions. Attfield has been a Canadian Hall of Fame member since 1999 since age 60, the minimum requirement.

“I have such great respect for racing. I’m ecstatic to be inducted in the American Hall of Fame, to be included with the many people I admire and respect. I’m really touched by it,” Attfield admitted.

Perennial leading breeder/owner Frank Stronach said he was “very pleased that a lot of people gave [Ghostzapper] great respect,” while also admitting that Canadian Hall of Fame member Awesome Again, Ghostzapper’s father, might have been the best horse he ever campaigned.

“[My father] was very observant, dedicated, very talented, and could read any situation,” said the late trainer Robert Wheeler’s daughter, Sidney. “He was very excited to get the [C.V.] Whitney horses,” added son, Lin, “developing great horses like Bug Brush and Silver Spoon.”

Perhaps it was only fitting that in this age of the brittle Thoroughbred, Ghostzapper was the lone horse inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame this year.

No one would argue that Ghostzapper is as brilliant, perhaps more so than many of the Thoroughbreds already enshrined in racing’s pantheon. Ghostzapper had Hall of Fame talent but to be honored as an all-timer after making only 11 career starts?

I don’t think that should qualify him but that’s OK. There are no yardsticks proscribing which horses or people are deemed unworthy. In this context, the voting is no different than casting ballots for Eclipse champions, or even the Top 10 Thoroughbreds in the weekly NTRA poll.

But without strong opinions horse racing would be polo without mallets. It’s this difference of opinion that, as they say, makes it a horse race.

It has been suggested on occasion that Hall of Fame voting be conducted on only those participants that have been retired. That makes sense as hindsight goes a long way in diminishing the effects of emotion and on its face is a worthy suggestion.

But could anyone picture the current Hall of Fame without, say, Allen Jerkens? Truth is, no one can. Perhaps the retirement qualifier has validity when considering careers in the remaining categories.

The aforementioned “Chief” is still saddling winners; he celebrated his 82nd birthday last Saturday, meaning he’s been a Hall of Fame member for 37 years. Jerkens was the youngest person to be voted into the Hall at 45 but later was eclipsed by Bill Mott, who, also 45, beat Jerkens in a photo.

Presently, horses must be retired for five years, trainers must be active for 25 and jockeys 20. It seems that the bar for jockeys should be raised to match that of trainers; 25 years before becoming eligible, based on a racing career of at least 20 years. Candidates in all categories

Ghostzapper won nine of those 11 starts with earnings of over $3.4 million. He was Horse of the Year and champion older male in 2004 and was trained by Bobby Frankel.

Ghostzapper’s four victories that year were all Grade 1, showing versatility by taking the 7-furlong Vosburgh, the famed Met Mile, the 9-furlong Woodward and, of course, the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Velazquez has won nearly 5,000 races and more than 750 stakes. He is a two-time Eclipse champion, winner of 22 New York Racing Association riding titles, and owns the record for winners at the prestigious Saratoga race meet with 65, set in 2004.

His most notable victories came in last year’s Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom and the 2007 Belmont Stakes with the filly, Rags To Riches. Last year also had Velazquez win his first Breeders’ Cup when he took the Filly and Mare Turf with Attfield’s Perfect Shirl.

Robert Wheeler’s career spanned the years 1938 through 1992, much of it before the graded stakes program was instituted in 1976. Wheeler won with 26 percent of the graded stakes he entered and 25 percent overall, whose clients also included Greentree Stable and Nelson Bunker Hunt.

*Those failing to get elected this time around included Thoroughbreds Ashado, Housebuster and Xtra Heat and jockeys Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez and Alex Solis.

A Derby 138 victory by Gomez on Daddy Knows Best or Borel on Take Charge Indy, giving him a fourth win in America’s Race might be enough to push those riders over the top. Until then, it’s wait until next year.

Edit correcting misstatement made at 7:59 a.m. 042512

Written by John Pricci

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