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Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Racing Hall of Fame Vote: Guilty As Charged


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 26, 2013---It shouldn’t be this way but I often dread the Hall of Fame ballot I receive each year. No matter what criterion I choose, I’m always uneasy after responding.

Must be the Catholic guilt thing.

The “problem” is that inclusion into racing’s pantheon is largely a matter of perception. So when ballots arrive, it’s a matter of delineating one potential immortal from the next. No one knows better than a professional handicapper what an inexact science assigning values to horses and horsemen can be.

It would serve voters well if there were some objective standard against which subjective opinions could be measured. Indeed, Hall Of Fame ballots are sent to people that have made a life’s work out of horse racing. And if “professionals” aren’t qualified to judge, then who?

Not having some objective standard makes it easier for voters to be swayed by prejudice; politics, region, personal relationships good or bad.

Sometimes people can be in racing their entire lives and their opinions never improve, which is why the combined wisdom of the many that comprise a consensus is often better than singular opinions, no matter how well informed.

A suggestion for the appropriate Hall of Fame committee: In the stat package that goes with each year’s nominees might be included some bellwether statistics. For instance, what is the average number of races won by a Hall of Fame jockey? Does the average Hall of Fame horse win 70 percent of its starts? If nothing else, stuff like this would be interesting to know.

For years, there was some rancor among voters with respect to how votes determined inclusion. A number of years back there was the “75%” rule, when that percentage needed to be attainedfor inclusion.

Then came a time when nominees were listed by category; male and female horses, jockeys, trainers. So what happens if there are three great fillies, but no jockey you believed to be an immortal? What to do?

For the last four years, voters have been submitted a list of candidates from which to choose. There are 10, including five jockeys, four horses and one traine this year. Vote for any--or all--10 nominees and the four highest vote getters are elected regardless of category. In the event of a tie, both individuals are in.

This would be irksome if you believed that all 10 merit inclusion; since a vote for all would be the equivalent of a vote for none. So, in the end, it does come down to the personal smell test.

Now, do we judge Chris Antley for his on-track performances or his off-track demons? This is an easy one for me. I invoke the Ty Cobb rule; it’s what happens inside the lines that matter--no bad pun intended.

A winning rate of 18 percent on major circuits from coast to coast without a super-trainer’s support is worthy of special merit. Becoming the first rider to win nine races in a day, and winning a DiMaggio-like 64 races on consecutive days are immortal achievements. Two Derbies and a Preakness among 3,480 career victorie don't hurt.

Now that Calvin Borel has reached the 5,000-win career plateau to add to his three Derby victories in a four-year span, isn't he an immortal? Only three riders have won the Derby more than thrice and Eddie Arcaro, Bill Hartack and Willie Shoemaker have their place in Saratoga. Calvin was, of course, Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra’s regular partner and has won riding titles at seven different tracks in Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Lure, 14-for-25 overall, was the first horse to earn repeat wins in the Breeders’ Cup (Mile), nine graded stakes overall on turf and dirt including four Grade 1s often carrying high weight in handicaps. He was a dominant miler on either surface.

I was set disparage Invasor because of an insufficient body of work but a record that includes 11 victories in 12 lifetime starts, nine of them Grade 1, the Uruguayan Triple Crown, and a Horse of the Year title in an American campaign debut is impossible to knock.

Housebuster won 15 of 22 career starts including 11 graded stakes and three Grade 1s. He was the first horse in over a quarter-century to repeat as Champion Sprinter. As a 3-year-old, he lost the Metropolitan Mile to Horse of the Year Criminal Type by a neck, finishing a length and a half in front of future Hall of Famer Easy Goer.

Ashado won 12 of 21 lifetime starts, seven Grade 1 stakes, and was the repeat Filly Champion of 2004-05, winning her first at 3 after defeating older in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Trainer Gary Jones retired after winning 1,465 races at a worthy rate of 18.5 percent, taking 17% of the graded stakes he entered. Based in California, Jones had a national reputation after developing the champion careers of Turkoman, Best Pal, and the popular win machine Meafara, a top class filly sprinter.

Garrett Gomez, Alex Solis and Craig Perret are not unworthy. Just didn’t want to “punish” the seven listed above. If there is a better alternative to the current system I don’t know what it is. Wish I did.

Written by John Pricci

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