08/06/2011 12:15PM

Hall's Well


This time of year it rains Hall of Fame inductions, from major league baseball in Cooperstown (Bert Blyleveln entered last month), to the NFL last Saturday night (all hail Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Richard Dent, Chris Hanburger and Les Richter) to this Friday's ceremonies in Saratoga Springs for Thoroughred racing's finest. Ruffian, Personal Ensign, Pan Zareta and Regret will be making room for three of their remarkable sisters -- Open Mind, Safely Kept and Sky Beauty -- while the bipeds of accomplishment will be represented by Jerry Hollendorfer, now among the 90 trainers to be inducted since 1955.

This is an opportunity to honor both the living and the departed, the departed in this case including 2011 Historical Review Committee choices Duke of Magenta, trainer Matthew Byrnes and jockey Shelby "Pike" Barnes. But since it's the living who tend to pay closer attention, it seems only right to provide here a list of those Hall of Fame members still among us. Some of them are still getting up pretty early.

Here are the jockeys: Joe Aitcheson, Braulio Baeza, Jerry Bailey, Russell Baze, Walter Blum, Bill Boland, Sam Boulmetis, Don Brumfield, Steve Cauthen, Angel Cordero, Pat Day, Eddie Delahoussaye, Kent Desormeaux, Earlie Fires, Jerry Fishback, Sandy Hawley, Julie Krone, Eddie Maple, Chris McCarron, Don Pierce, Laffit Pincay, Edgar Prado, Randy Romero, John Rotz, Jose Santos, Mike Smith, Gary Stevens, Ron Turcotte, Robert Ussery, Jacinto Vasquez, Jorge Velasquez, Tommy Walsh and Manuel Ycaza.

And here are the trainers: Bob Baffert, Neil Drysdale, Janet Elliot, Carl Hanford, Allen Jerkens, LeRoy Jolley, Tommy Kelly, Wayne Lukas, Frank Martin, Ron McAnally, Shug McGaughey, Richard Mandella, Bill Mott, Carl Nafzger, John Nerud, Jonathan Sheppard, Jack Van Berg, John Veitch and Nick Zito.

I was especially curious to know what fellow Hall of Fame trainers thought of Hollendorfer, their contemporary and newest inductee, so I'll ask a few of them as the ceremony nears. If there is someone you'd like me to call, pipe up. Otherwise, if you see one of the people on either of those lists on the street -- or perhaps assembled on Friday for the induction ceremony itself (they're the ones in the blue blazers) -- give them a high five, a handshake, a hug ... whatever seems right at the moment.

John Nerud (Hall of Fame class of 1972) turned 98 years old last February. He's been in the Hall of Fame longer than anyone else alive, but he'd like to think he's known for something more than the accident of longevity. "There's not many people 97 and even fewer 98," Nerud said, hitting the actuarial nail on the head. "But I still know my name."

So does anyone else who pretends to be a fan of Thoroughbred racing. Never mind the obvious, that Nerud trained Dr. Fager, the fiery colt who had what was perhaps the greatest single season any Thoroughbred has ever produced in 1968, in terms of scope, speed, class and weight carried. Nerud is also in the Hall because of Hall of Famers like Ta Wee and Gallant Man and a bunch more major stakes winners, some of them he also owned and bred.

It is Nerud's vertical integration with the sport that has been so remarkable -- he also found time to help establish the Breeders' Cup -- which is why he is such an admirer of Jerry Hollendorfer's record as part owner of many of the top horses he has trained, including Blind Luck.

"On what I see it sure looks like he deserves it," Nerud said of Hollendorfer's induction. "I've been trying to get them to put owners in the Hall of Fame forever. You got to give him credit for stepping up as an owner. I owned a quarter of Dr. Fager, and most of the good ones."

Informed that Hollendorfer is very much a John Nerud kind of guy, who does not take losing lightly, Nerud chuckled and shot back, "That's why he wins."

Carl Nafzger (Hall of Fame class of 2008) got a call not long ago from a friend who'd just been driving through the West Texas panhandle. "He says he was heading along Highway 70 when he come to Olton, and there's a big sign that says 'Home of Carl Nafzger.' He was so shocked he pretty near wrecked the car."

Nafzger was born in Olton (pop. 2,215), and it's no surpise they like to advertise the fact, especially since their favorite son went on to become a rodeo champion and two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, not to mention a Hall of Famer. Nafzger lives in Kentucky these days, where he keeps his hand in managing the Thoroughbred interests of longtime client James Tafel, and his Hall of Fame plaque has a nice spot in his home. He had another one made, though, for the Sandcrawl Museum in Olton for the unveiling this summer of a Carl Nafzger Exhibit, as part of the annual Sandhills Celebration.

The Celebration just ended, but you can still visit the museum, which shares a building with the Olton Public Library there on Main Street. As for Hollendorfer joining the tribe in Saratoga Springs, Nafzger offered high praise.

"His record speaks for itself," Nafzger said. "I've got nothing but respect for what he's done. I remember in 2000 at the Derby, his horse (Globalize) got into the field my colt Unshaded got left out. Then the day after entries his horse got hurt and couldn't run. Jerry felt bad enough about that, but he went out of his way to apologize to me for keeping me out of the race. He didn't have to do that." Unshaded went on to win the Travers.