02/25/2009 1:00AM

Baffert among Hall of Fame finalists


For a guy who likes to talk, and likes to joke around, trainer Bob Baffert was practically rendered speechless when he found out on Wednesday that he was a finalist, for the first time, on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

"I'm sort of in shock," said Baffert, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby. "It sort of hit me, like, wow. It's very humbling."

Baffert is one of just two finalists for trainer, along with the late Bob Wheeler, mirroring last year's ballot, where Wheeler was a finalist with Carl Nafzger, who was elected.

There are three finalists in each of the other categories - jockey, contemporary male horse, and contemporary female horse. The finalists were announced on Wednesday by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

A minimum of two, and maximum of four, finalists can be named in the four categories, according to the rules currently in place for the Hall of Fame. Only one can get in from each category, unless there is a tie for first. The 11 finalists were chosen from a pool of 91 nominees by the Hall's 16-member nominating committee. A total of 180 persons will receive ballots. The winners are scheduled to be announced in April, and inducted in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Aug. 14.

The finalists for jockey are Eddie Maple, Randy Romero, and Alex Solis, all of whom have been on the ballot before. Only Solis is still active.

Best Pal, Point Given, and Tiznow - all based on the West Coast - are the finalists in the contemporary male category.

The contemporary female category, which is deep every year, this year includes Open Mind, Silverbulletday, and Sky Beauty.

Baffert trained Point Given and Silverbulletday.

"It would be good to see those two win," Baffert said. "We'd have quite the party up there."

Baffert, 56, dabbled in Thoroughbreds early in his career, largely trained Quarter Horses during the 1980s, then switched back to Thoroughbreds full time in the early 1990s. He has had remarkable success. In addition to his Derby wins, Baffert has won the Preakness four times, the Belmont once, the Dubai World Cup twice, has won seven Breeders' Cup races, has had 10 of his horses earn Eclipse Awards, and three times has been the Eclipse Award-winning trainer.

"When I jumped over from Quarter Horses, I never thought of something like this," Baffert said. "I just wanted to win a Breeders' Cup race. This was never the plan. It was either train horses, or get a full-time job. I owe it all to my dad, Bill, and my uncle, F.J. If not for their passion in horses, I wouldn't be here."