The answers are yes and no, like the entire process itself. So many worthy nominees; so little time to get them all in at once.
My first inclination was to not add to an already worthy list. The H of F rule is that horses and horsemen nominated but not elected in the past three years automatically return on next year’s ballot.
That‘s entirely fair. If you made the cut once but failed to enter; try, try and try again. There are no losers on the list. It’s the reason why all those TV award-show presenters say: “And the Fill-In-The-Award-Here Goes To…”
In that spirit, I wasn’t going to add to the existing lists.
How’d you like a horse trained by Dale Baird or Gary Jones or Mel Stute or Robert Wheeler? Me, too.
Were you not entertained by the performances of Best Pal and Housebuster and Lure and Manila?
Don’t you like mares that shave, such as Inside Information, Silverbulletday, Open Mind and Sky Beauty?
That’s enough to consider, enough to make a horse-lover’s head hurt.
So how do you choose between Maple, a winner of nearly 4,400 races, and Craig Perret, a winner of exactly that number, many “by appointment only?”
Or were Romero’s rides on Go for Wand and the pressure of Personal Ensign’s winning streak, ending with that indelible Breeders’ Cup over Derby heroine Winning Colors, good enough to seal the deal? How about Alex Solis’s work on Classic/Dubai World Cup winner Pleasantly Perfect. Snow Chief, too. Either way, no argument.
The great trainers are always hardest for me to separate. How is the winner of 9,418 races through last October not in the Hall of Fame? And I don’t care if Dale Baird saddled all of them in my back yard. They count!
Gary Jones? He was 18 percent effective in stakes company, the developer of Turkoman and Best Pal and Quiet American. Quiet American? He won the Cigar Mile when it was the NYRA Mile, in 1990.
Everybody remembers Stute’s work with Snow Chief, but how soon we forget Bobby Wheeler, if we ever knew him. In 1960, when C.V. Whitney was America’s leading owner, it was Wheeler who won tons of stakes money with Tompion and the fillies Silver Spoon and Bug Brush.
Bug Brush? She set a world record beating males in the San Antonio. Wheeler won 18 stakes with those two fillies that year. And when racing began to grade its stakes in 1976, Wheeler won 25 percent of those he entered. No wonder Greentree and Nelson Bunker Hunt hired him, too.
That would make him a sort of back-in-the-day Pletcher. Todd Pletcher? With current earnings of over $138-million, fourth all-time, he’s not eligible until 2020. Riddle that for a minute.
The horses? Best Pal: 18-for-47, 17 stakes, Big Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Oaklawn Handicap; $5.6-million. Turf specialist Manila: 12-for-18; Arlington Million, United Nations, Turf Classic, Breeders’ Cup Turf over Theatrical, Estrapade and European champion Dancing Brave; $2.6 million. Silver Charm: 12-for-24, 11 graded stakes, Derby, Preakness, Dubai World Cup (Swain, by a nose); $6.9-million.
And the girls? Inside Information: 14-for-17, nine stakes (six Grade 1), wins over Heavenly Prize, Sky Beauty and Serena’s Song. Sky Beauty: 15-for-21, NYRA Triple Tiara, Alabama, the Ruffian (130 pounds). Silverbulletday: 15-for-23, 14 of first 16; $3-million; Juvenile Fillies, Ashland, Kentucky Oaks, Alabama.
So I’m thinking this is easy. Plenty to think about already. How impertinent to add more names to those lists.
Parenthetically, what if Midnight Lute does win Saturday’s Cigar Mile? Does he upset Lawyer Ron, the protem handicap champion? Excuse the digression.
In their zeal to make the process easier, the Hall of Fame people provided more information to nominators; a Top 100 list of trainers, jockeys, and horses, both active and inactive. But the committee actually made the decision process harder, confusing voters with all these facts.
Among the Top 100 trainers listed by earnings, sitting at No. 5 is Bob Baffert. Right, he’s not in the Hall of Fame, and he’s eligible. Got to nominate him.
But wait. What about Jerry Hollandorfer? Would there even be a Northern California circuit without him? Now look all the way down to No. 29. Are you kidding me? Carl Nafzger? He doesn’t have Baffert’s numbers, but he doesn’t have Baffert’s owners, either.
(I know I’m in the minority, but I must vote my Eclipse conscience: Curlin for Horse of Year; Nafzger for Trainer of the Year. Why? Because at the end of the day, Nafzger accomplished more working with a little less. And I‘m a huge Street Sense fan).
Already mentioned Baird. But racing’s third winningest trainer, King Leatherbury, is eligible, as is Richard Hazelton, fifth on the all-time winners list. Will they, too, be victims of geography?
A glance at the Top 100 money earning jockeys shows Edgar Prado right behind Solis at No. 7, and he’s eligible. And did you know that Garrett Gomez, the new all-time single-season stakes king, is eligible, too.
At No. 35, nine slots behind Gomez, is Chris Antley. Does anyone deny his Hall of Fame talent? Or will a tragic off-track life and death be his legacy? Which begs the question, what about the eligible Patrick Valenzuela?
Don’t know if anyone’s thought of this, but if 500 home runs is one benchmark for entering the MLB Hall of Fame, so should members of the 6,000-win club, especially since only 15 jockeys have done it. Yet, David Gall (7,396), Larry Snyder, Carl Gambardella and, most recently, Mario Pino, are not Hall of Famers despite their qualifications.
It is with a measure of excitement and trepidation for my future workload, that I add these names (one per category limit) to the 2008 list of Hall of Fame nominees: Trainer: Carl Nafzger (Baffert next year, I promise). Jockey: Edgar Prado. Contemporary Male: Maybe Tiznow, maybe not. (Consecutive Classics loom large, an 8-for-15 career mark doesn’t). Female: Enough already.
The deadline is December 4. Probably will take that long to decide.