05/30/2010 2:06PM

Bully for Them

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The Hall of Fame of any sport is nothing less than a vital organ, which is why it is important to make certain the manner in which Hall of Famers are selected is sound.

For this year's version in thoroughbred racing, there was energetic sentiment among the movers and shakers of the Hall of Fame process that a number of very good mares were being overlooked because of the rule that only one could enter per year. The same could have been said for trainers, jockeys and male horses -- at least that's what I thought --but it was the mares who carried the most weight, and the voting format was changed.

As a result, it was possible this year that Azeri, Open Mind, Safely Kept and Sky Beauty all could have entered the Hall of Fame. That would have been quite a chorus line, high-kicking into the Saratoga shrine, but it didn't happen. Only Azeri, whose record dwarfed the considerable resumes of the other three, got enough votes for induction.

Whether the result was a backfire of good intentions or a natural result of miscalculated manipulation, it matters not. I will also avoid picking through the grisly details of the process by which the Hall of Fame ballot is cobbled together (think of the Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior under the Bush administration, without the crystal meth and kinky sex). But as it stands now, the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee -- of which I am a member -- is nothing but a Narrowing Committee, tasked primarily with eliminating names that deserve widespread consideration.

There were only 10 candidates on the 2010 ballot -- an arbitrary figure based upon the number of horses encouraged to run in the Kentucky Derby, divided by two -- but there easily could have been many more included, and without a whiff of embarrassment or confusion. Among the omitted this year were Jerry Hollendorfer, Garrett Gomez, John Velazquez, Mineshaft, Heavenly Prize, Robbie Albarado, Housebuster, Kona Gold, Chris Antley, Billy Turner, Calvin Borel, Mel Stute, Neil Howard, Smarty Jones, Lure, Estrapade and Craig Perret (readers are encouraged to pile on).

In fact, it should not matter how many names are included. Give each voter 10 votes, then, to be elected, require a candidate to get 66% or so of the support from the total number of voters. Cull the list annually of those names who do not attract at least a minimum level of support. If the system is good enough for the baseball Hall of Fame, it's good enough for horse racing.

Just as baseball honors widely diverse players for doing a variety of jobs very well, horse racing has its special cases. Certainly, no one can argue with the comprehensive career of Randy Romero, replete with quantity, quality and more than its share of operatic tragedy. And as for Azeri, let's just say Zenyatta has yet to catch anything like her.

But the two males elected tell very different tales. Purists who balk at Point Given's Hall of Fame qualifications worry that he did not make it past the summer of his 3-year-old season, and that he never was tested against the older horses of the era. What a Breeders' Cup Classic that could have been in 2001, had Point Given not gone wrong after the Haskell and the Travers. Picture the big chestnut bearing down on Tiznow and Sakhee as the wire neared at Belmont Park, where Point Given had won the Belmont Stakes by 12 1/4 lengths that June.

What there was of Point Given was choice, and he beat Tiznow fair and square in the balloting for 2001 Horse of the Year. (A referendum on that decision took place last year, when Tiznow entered the Hall of Fame first in head-to-head balloting against Point Given, but now all is settled.) As for precedent, there have been several colts enter the Hall of Fame without ever facing their elders. Colin's record of 15-for-15 trumped the fact that he didn't make it past June of his 3-year-old season. Count Fleet, Majestic Prince and Tim Tam were victims of the Triple Crown and never raced after the Belmont. Northern Dancer lasted one race longer, going out in style by winning the Queen's Plate in his native Canada.

Best Pal copy Best Pal is the yang to Point Given's yin. As a 2-year-old -- pegged about fourth best of John Mabee's crop -- he was more accomplished than Point Given. At three Best Pal had a better Kentucky Derby, finishing second, and that summer, while the rest of the crop was dallying in the Travers, Best Pal stepped up to beat a field of older horses in the Pacific Classic that included Unbridled, Farma Way, Twilight Agenda and Festin.

While Best Pal lost 29 of his 47 starts, he also won the hearts and minds of thousands of fans over seven memorable seasons. Had he retired at the end of his 4-year-old season, he would have been a slam-dunk Hall of Famer in his first year of eligibility, with a record of 12 wins in 23 starts, along with seven seconds and third, and additional wins in the Santa Anita Handicap, Oaklawn Handicap and Strub Stakes. But he didn't. He was a gelding, and he soldiered on for three more seasons, adding the Hollywood Gold Cup and San Antonio Handicap among a host of honorable efforts. So committed was Best Pal to the life of the warrior that he lasted only 2 1/2 years in retirement. He died of a heart attack on Nov. 24, 1998, while accompanying a herd of young horses to the training track at Golden Eagle Farm, where he was born.

His remains are buried there, beneath one of the boulders harvested from the rocky outcroppings of the eastern San Diego County landscape. It used to feel like a long way from Saratoga Springs, but no more.

C More than 1 year ago
blackseabass, I have never called Zenyatta a bum, nor was I "defending" Azeri. You are listing different races with different fields separated by several years. I don't know what that's supposed to mean. My point is that Azeri was better than anything Zenyatta has faced. The reverse is probably true as well.
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
" It would not be 10-0..." Interesting that you are quick to jump to the defense of Azeri (I wasn't putting her down). I saw Azeri about 10 times same as I've seen Zenyatta and in my opinion Z would do what she always does. Back to the point. Zenyatta is a bum because of her schedule blah,blah,blah. Azeri vs. Zenyatta: Z won the BC Classic, A lost it. Z won the BC Distaff, A won the BC Distaff. Z won the Santa Margarita, A won the Santa Margarita. Z won the Apple Blossom (2 times) A won the Apple Blossom (3 times). Z won the Vanity (3 times) A won the Vanity (2 times) Z won the Milady (2 times) A won the Milady (2 times) Z won the C.L. Hirsch (2 times so far) A won the C.L.Hirsch (2 times) Z won the Lady's Secret (2 times so far) A won the Lady's Secret (once and ran 2nd in another) Z won the El Encino (part of the La Canada series) A ran 2nd in the La Canada. Z never ran in the Go For Wand or Spinster A won them. Z never ran in the Humana distaff or Personal Ensign either A ran 2nd in those. The resumes are very similar as far as the wins go the loss column on the other hand bears no resemblance. In an actual race Zenyatta would beat Azeri about 2 or 3 times before Azeri's connects started looking elsewhere. In fact Azeri's multiple connects were pretty smart and they probably would have shopped it around after one drubbing.
C More than 1 year ago
"Azeri was a very very good mare. ZENYATTA she wasn't." Fair enough... I'll just put it this way. Hypothetically, if Azeri and Zenyatta met 10 times, it would not be a 10-0 (or even 8-2) tally for either one.
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
yes Da'Hoss should be in the hof. he won 12 of 20 running at at least 10 different tracks finishing in the exacta 17 times, missing the trifecta just once in his career.He ran the fastest 6f of any 2yr old in history 107 1/5 which should be enough on its own. He ran well on turf and dirt from 5 1/2f to 9f most importantly he delivered at prices unheard of for a horse of his stature. If not the racing hall of fame at least the horse players hall of fame. A case could be made that Best Pal could've should've won 2 MANOKELSECFORFFIANS. His Stellar record might have been better had he not looped the field going 7f fooling his connects and jockeys into thinking that he had a move. In reality he was a front running INHERETER and would have won more often if ridden as such, he deserves the hall. Azeri was a very very good mare. ZENYATTA she wasn't.She also deserves the hall.
Eric Rickard More than 1 year ago
I was not stating that the Hall Voters have an East Coast bias. I was stating that in general their is a bias Sorry for the confusion.
C More than 1 year ago
"One simple example is that you can still find people whom think that Monarchos was a better horse than Point Given." If the voting is so rigged, how come Monarchos is not in the Hall of Fame? Point Given is getting in this year, isn't he? If you are accusing the HoF voters of being biased based on a handful of loons you've met who think Monarchos was better than Point Given, you have no leg to stand on. You could also just look at this year's inductees.
C More than 1 year ago
So the only 3 horses to make the HoF this year were all Cal-based, but because they happened to ship east a few times and because Randy Romero (who spent most of his career in the midwest) got into the HoF over Alex Solis (who is deserving and I'm sure will get in soon), there is obviously a strong east-coast bias. Oh come on already with this bias BS. Is anyone complaining that Desormeaux (who had raced almost entirely in California at that point) or Russel Baze (who has never had any competition for mounts) got in years ahead of Romero, who has nearly died for our entertainment? Give me a break.
Eric Rickard More than 1 year ago
Just reading your article has my Heart pumping; as it did when ever Best Pal ran. Isn't that what horse racing is about? As for Azeri, loved her too. Very dependable. Point Given was a no brainer. I won't bore every one with my Point Given recaps. I had a conversation with Gary Stevens on the Derby fiasco. He says he doesn't know what happened. It is a mystery to me, too. I live on the East coast now, lived in Cali for 25 years. There is an East coast biased. One simple example is that you can still find people whom think that Monarchos was a better horse than Point Given. Thank you for the articles.
johnny d More than 1 year ago
Hey C, All those horses went across the country and won races, And if you don't think these votes are slanted east you are kidding yourself.
Jeff T. More than 1 year ago
Jay... great piece on the Mig. I didn't follow him in his early career and really only came to appreciate him right before his injury. I'm glad he had that nice run with the Godolphin stable at the end. What I remember most is a victory in a big race in CA (I forget which one). His post race interview was unforgettable. I've watched hundreds (maybe a 1000) interviews with athletes over my life of watching basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, etc... The Mig was more articulate (and gracious) than any athlete's interview in memory. That's how I'll always remember him... articulate, gracious, and humble from the heart. He spoke so clearly and with the tongue of an experienced spokesman for the sport. I wish him and his family the very best and pray he recovers from this scary surgery.