05/27/2010 11:00PM

Azeri heads four newest Hall members

Adam Coglianese
Azeri and the other new Hall of Fame inductees will be enshrined Aug. 13 at Saratoga.

The great mare Azeri, whose accomplished career included four Eclipse Awards, including the title of 2002 Horse of the Year, was voted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in her first appearance on the ballot, leading a 2010 induction class that will also include the horses Best Pal and Point Given, and jockey Randy Romero.

All four were announced as inductees on Friday by the Hall of Fame. They will be inducted on Aug. 13 at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., just around the corner from the Hall of Fame.

There were 10 finalists on this year's ballot - four female horses, two male horses, two jockeys, and two trainers - but they were lumped together on a common ballot, not, as in past years, in categories. The rules were changed this year because some divisions in recent years have been perceived as deeper than others. As a result, both male horses got in, but no trainers.

The Hall of Fame's 182 voters could choose up to four candidates, and the four receiving the most votes got in. The six who were outpolled were the mares Open Mind, Safely Kept, and Sky Beauty, jockey Alex Solis, and trainers Gary Jones and Robert Wheeler. The Hall of Fame does not release vote totals.

A historic review committee, the equivalent of an old-timer's committee, also met this year, and has chosen inductees, but they will not be announced until June 9.

"We just felt they probably would get more attention if they were not lumped together with the four announced today," said Ed Bowen, the long-time chairman of the Hall of Fame's nominating committee.

Azeri, who raced for the estate of Allen Paulson, was a virtual slam dunk. She won 17 times in 24 starts, including 14 of her first 15 races while trained by Laura de Seroux, who guided Azeri to the Horse of the Year title in 2002, when she won the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park. Azeri won the prestigious Apple Blossom Handicap three straight years, twice for de Seroux, and once after being transferred to D. Wayne Lukas. She won 11 Grade 1 races. Azeri was voted champion older filly or mare three straight years, 2002-2004.

"As a trainer, she was the best I was around. And as a career racetracker, she was the best I was around," said deSeroux, who, before training, was the exercise rider for such Charlie Whittingham-trained standouts as Dahlia, Estrapade, Greinton, Lord At War, and Strawberry Road.

Romero finally got into the Hall of Fame after falling short the seven previous times he was on the ballot.

"It's a great honor. I'm so, so happy," Romero said on a conference call Friday. "Dreams do come true."

Romero, 52, retired in 1999 with 4,294 victories, most notably in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs with the unbeaten Personal Ensign. His career was punctuated by tragedy, most notably being burned in a hot box accident at Oaklawn Park in 1983, and then being thrown from Go for Wand when she suffered catastrophic injuries in the 1990 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont Park.

Romero currently undergoes kidney dialysis three times a week for four hours each time.

"So far, I'm holding my own pretty well," he said Friday.

Best Pal, a gelding, won 18 times in 47 starts, including six Grade 1 races, and was second in the 1991 Kentucky Derby. Later that year, he won the inaugural Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Best Pal was at his best at age 4, when he won the Santa Anita Handicap and Oaklawn Handicap following victories in the San Fernando and Strub. He won at least one graded stakes race each year from ages 2 through 7 while racing for his breeders, John and Betty Mabee, who employed trainers Ian Jory, Gary Jones, and Richard Mandella to care for Best Pal.

Point Given, a homebred of the late Prince Ahmed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, was the Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male of 2001, when his victories included the Preakness, Belmont, Santa Anita Derby, and Haskell. He won 9 times in 13 starts for trainer Bob Baffert.