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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, March 17, 2022 – Amid the daily crises, finally an exercise we take seriously, one we feel privileged to partake in, the filling out of the annual Hall of Fame ballot.

The following are instructions voters must know and accede to: We prefer voting variations of past years but you vote the ballot you’re dealt, one that includes without delineation nominations for horses, trainers, and jockeys all rolled into one.

There’s nothing wrong with those parameters per se, although for some reason they don’t sit easily here.

That said, voters are told that they are not limited to a specific number of candidates and that voters can choose as many or a few as they wish. The threshold for admission is like voting in Texas: 50% +1 and you’re in.

In my view, this cheapens the process a bit, thinking that I voted for every candidate, it would be akin to lumping the worthiest with the least worthy. Just because all candidates are accomplished, great in their own right, does not necessarily mean they belong in an all-time pantheon.

Votes are tabulated by an independent accounting firm in Saratoga Springs. National Racing Hall of Fame and Museum staffers prepared the ballots and biographical data and stats after being nominated by a committee headed by chairman Edward L. Bowen.

The HRI Faithful should know we’re strict markers and follow our own counsel when it comes to guidelines.

When possible, we prefer not to vote for more than one entity per category, believing that two votes has the effect of weakening the chances of the other. Then that’s just me as handicappers are over prone to overthinking the issue.

The nominees in the equine category this year per the committee are, listed alphabetically: Beholder, Blind Luck, Havre de Grace, Kona Gold (the lone male), Rags to Riches and Tepin.

Affectionately, All Along, Ruffian, Rachel Alexandra, Personal Ensign, Shuvee, Twilight Tear, Zenyatta, all leap to mind. “Greatness” is one thing; legendary status another. That’s the standard for me which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, lower case b.

Our two equine checkmarks this year are beside two wonderful mares, Beholder and Tepin.

As if a (26) 18-6-0 weren’t enough, 11 of Beholder’s 18 victorious were Grade 1. Her Pacific Classic score in 2015 over nine males was Secretariat-like; her head victory over Songbird to conclude her career was unforgettably heroic, the stuff of legend.

Tepin never ducked an assignment on her way to compiling a (23) 13-5-1 record. Six of the 13 were Grade 1 including the Breeders’ Cup and Woodbine Miles and the Queen Anne in a bog at Royal Ascot, thrice defeating males. She handled every surface thrown her way, a rare and wonderful blend of speed and courage.

Jockey Corey Nakatani was the only finalist in the Jockey Category and finally should be feted. He won with 16% of his 23,740 mounts competing at the highest levels, including 341 graded stakes, 70 Grade 1s, 23 of those multiple times; 10 meet titles; six Breeders’ Cups but, analogous to Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino’s Super Bowl record, never the Kentucky Derby.

Among trainers, Christophe Clement, Graham Motion, Doug O’Neill, and John Shirreffs. Again, we were compelled to check two boxes:

Clement, in his second year of eligibility, won with 20% of 11,275 starters; 256 of his 2,211 career winners came in graded stakes, 23 Grade 1, eight multiple times, and developed 19 equine millionaires, including Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist and three-time Eclipse Champion Gio Ponti.

John Shirreffs, like Clement, won races the right way, as did Graham Motion. (With the exception of uber prolific Todd Pletcher, I make it a practice not to vote for first-time nominees). Without question, Motion is Hall of Fame worthy. I would celebrate his induction should that occur.

Shirreffs, beyond his amazing work with the wondrous and quirky Zenyatta, which of itself would almost be enough, the Kansan started 3,203 runners and won 550 races, 17%, of which102 of those were graded stakes.

Shirreffs won the Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and two Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classics, with Zenyatta, of course, 17 Grade 1s in all, eight multiple times. Thirteen of the 17 Grade 1s with his Hall of Fame mare and is the only trainer to win the Ladies Classic and Classic in the same year.

No one embodies the spirit of having the horse tell the trainer in the manner Shirreffs always has, the mark of a true Hall of Famer.

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4 Responses

  1. I am SO hoping John Shirreffs is voted in. He is not merely a horse TRAINER – he is one of only a handful in horse racing who is a true and knowledgeable HORSEMAN and who actually put the horse’s well-being first. Many seem to overlook his talents because of his quiet and unassuming demeanor, erroneously thinking that ANY trainer with success associated with his or her name could have trained a horse like Zenyatta to be the champion and legend that she was. Anyone that truly knows him (and/or is familiar with the “quirky” Zenyatta) realizes that couldn’t be further from the truth.

  2. Giacomo ,my grampa s name,hit it quiet well ,jumping on a couch,, with my wife, unknown to her how much it paid! She was just happy for him,RIP,even if i have his name,along with other five or six cousins ! Yeah ,that trainer deserves it. Motion can wait a bit. Lots of great names ,both equine athletes and trainers ,that bring many memorable races…

    1. That’s one of the best parts of the game–seeing names that bring back vivid memories of racetrack experiences…

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