Tuesday, December 19, 2017

TRC’s Top 10 50-Year Poll: Toughest Handicapping Test Ever

Before going on record with the HRI Faithful and other interested parties, let me say it was an honor to be invited to participate in a poll to determine which were the Top 10 Horses, Trainers and Jockeys of the last 50 years.

With the soul of a journalist and addled brain of a public handicapper for 48 of those 50 years, and as a serious fan since 1960, I confess that I’m unsure about many of my final choices. It’s not rocket science, but the decisions were conflict laden.

Kudos to Thoroughbred Racing Commentary for creating this wonderful bit of mayhem, and to lead writer Bob Ehalt for his efforts in researching the candidates and chronicling the results. I have no idea how he found the time to effort such an overwhelming task.

However, as I’ve often stated in traffic court, I’m guilty with an explanation. This exercise was one of the hardest “handicapping” puzzles I’ve ever attempted to solve in 57 years as a horse-player and fan. And everything else finishes a bad second.

My first mission was simply; how do I do this? I know the game is built on opinion but there must be some objective standard. In the case of horses, is it their lifetime past performances, charisma, contributions to racing history, transcendence in sports society?

Or is it just unabashed love of how these wonderful creatures and their caretaker practitioners manage to improve the quality of people’s lives; the soulful, love-filled way in which they touch anyone who hold horses near and dear, even the scoundrels in their midst?

In my world, a place in which I seldom err more than eight to 12 times per gambling session, I went about making a mental picture of the very best horses I’ve seen, conjuring whether their ‘A’ game would win out under the most trying of circumstances.

That done, I verified my mind’s eye by consulting lifetime past performances in Daily Racing Form’s extremely worthy compilation, “Champions.”

The trainers were measured on a perceived ‘genius’ scale. Did they have some unique ability to reach the bottom of an individual’s talent, then keep it at tops over a sustained period of time; a year, or even an entire career?

For jockeys it was all about God-given talent; their strength, courage, timing and guile. In the final analysis, could their race-riding genius prove to be the sole difference between victory and defeat?

I’m embarrassed to reveal the names of those who failed to make my personal top 10. But as my late-in-life handicapping mentors, the late, great Cary Fotias, explained: You have to a stand somewhere; even if trying to compare talent from different eras.

Here are some of the names I omitted that could prevent me from receiving any more invitations. With apologies, great horses such as Affirmed, Buckpasser, Cigar, Curlin, Holy Bull and Native Diver were among my top 20, but not the HRI Top 10.

But wait, there’s more: How about the jockeys who didn’t make the cut; all-time greats such as Hall of Famers Eddie Arcaro, Braulio Baeza, Russell Baze, Javier Castellano, Steve Cauthen, Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, Edgar Prado and Jorge Velasquez. I know…

Finally, trainers who did not make it into HRI Top 10. Which great horsemen? How about Steve Asmussen, Laz Barrera, Chad Brown, Jerry Hollendorfer, Shug McGaughey, John Nerud, Todd Pletcher? I could go on. If you’ve stopped reading, I understand.

Again, I had no idea how difficult this exercise, these “races,” would be. If Thoroughbred racing is like breathing to you, then you know.

I handled all categories by considering what I thought were the attributes of a Top 10 performer should have:

I was looking for horses which, if asked, could fly. I looked for trainers who routinely performed miracles; saw talent in individuals that was invisible to me. And the jockeys?

Did they ride horses like they owned them; both the horse and the racetrack? Did they win races by carrying a horse over the finish line with brutish strength, or by pleading for just more jump, communicating using the softest hands to ever hold a set of reins?

Today, a look at racing’s two-legged practitioners. On Sunday, our Top 10 most worthy Thoroughbreds.

Thoroughbred Racing Commentary: Top 10 Jockeys of the Last 50 Years
--as chosen by a panel of 45 industry stake holders; including jockeys, trainers, owners, racing officials, industry executives and racing media, print and electronic.

Based on polling points 10 for #1 and 1 for #10, etc.; first place votes in parentheses:

1. Bill Shoemaker –370 (21)
2. Laffit Pincay Jr. --338 (8)
3. Angel Cordero Jr. --311 (8)
4. Jerry Bailey --202 (1)
5. Chris McCarron --168
6. Mike Smith --162 (3)
7. Bill Hartack –155 (2)
8. Braulio Baeza –134 (1)
9. Pat Day --113
10. John Velazquez –84 (1)

HRI Top 10 with handicapping reference

1. Angel Cordero Jr.: When live, win or lose, owned every race he was in…
2. Laffit Pincay Jr.: Strongest finisher I have ever seen, or will see…
3. Jerry Bailey: Don’t know how he earned la lifetime rail pass; Mr. Perfect Trip…
4. Bill Shoemaker: Magic hands, focus, guile, superb timing, transcendent...
5. John Velasquez: Race reader par excellence; brilliant tactician; timing; strength…
6. Manuel Ycaza: Rough, tough and strong; fierce as he was fearless…
7. Pat Day: Quiet hands and style put horses--and his competition--to sleep…
8. Ramon Dominguez: The Complete Jockey; style, stealth, timing and strength…
9. Mike Smith: Mr. Cool is remarkably poised under the spotlight’s glare…
10. Robert Ussery: Innovator; peerless speed riding technique plus brutal strength…

Thoroughbred Racing Commentary: Top 10 Trainers of the Last 50 Years:
1. Charlie Whittingham -- 357 (15)
2. Woody Stephens --274 (4)
3. Bobby Frankel –262 (4)
4. Bob Baffert –248 (6)
5. D Wayne Lukas –230 (6)
6. H Allen Jerkens –223 (6)
7. Laz Barrera --107
8. Bill Mott --93
9. Frank Whiteley Jr. --91
10. Todd Pletcher –89

HRI Top 10, with handicapping reference:
1. H. Allen Jerkens: The Giant Killer performed miracles as a matter of routine…
2. Charlie Whittingham: I’ll see 8 Big ‘Caps and raise 14 San Juan Capistrano’s…
3. Frank Whiteley Jr: Relentless dogmatic brilliance, never wavered or out-foxed…
4. Bobby Frankel: Centaur of the 20th Century
5. Woody Stephens: King of the Belmont, was the hardest boot of them all...
6. Hirsch Jacobs: Masterful horsemanship that transcended every equine class…
7. Bill Mott: The Development King bulls-eyes most every target…
8. Frank Martin: Underappreciated Form King, had a trick up every sleeve…
9. Bob Baffert: The King of Speed and Stamina…
10. D. Wayne Lukas: Innovative teacher changed course of training history…


Hallandale Beach, FL, December 19, 2017

Written by John Pricci

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