04/20/2009 12:00AM

Baffert heads 2009 Hall inductees

Email

When he first decided to switch from training Quarter Horses to Thoroughbreds, Bob Baffert was backed in large part by owner Mike Pegram. Together, they have won a Kentucky Derby and four Breeders' Cup races, and on Monday they completed their climb through the sport when both Baffert and one of Pegram's best runners, Silverbulletday, were announced as being among the six newest members of the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame.

In addition, jockey Eddie Maple and the male horse Tiznow also were voted in, and the Hall's steeplechase committee honored trainer Janet Elliot and the horse Ben Nevis II.

All six will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 14 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Baffert, 56, outpolled the late Bob Wheeler, the only other finalist in the trainer category. Baffert is a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby. This was the first time he had made the final ballot.

"I'm glad it worked out this way, to go in together," Baffert said Monday afternoon in a phone call from Louisville, Ky., where he is preparing Santa Anita Derby winner Pioneerof the Nile for the Kentucky Derby on May 2.

Pegram, in a statement released by the Hall of Fame, called Baffert "an amazing horseman." Pegram said that when Baffert is inducted in August, people will "finally realize what he has done in such a short time."

Since moving over to Thoroughbreds full time less than 20 years ago, Baffert has won eight Triple Crown races, seven Breeders' Cup races, and trained the winners of 12 Eclipse Awards. He has won the Eclipse Award as champion trainer three times. Baffert's story arc is similar to that of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who also started in Quarter Horses.

"He set the bar high," Baffert said.

Baffert credited his success to the foundation he received growing in up in rural Arizona, where his father, Bill, dabbled with cheap horses.

"I have the proudest parents," Baffert said, referring to Bill and Ellie. "Without them, I wouldn't be in this situation."

Silverbulletday, a two-time champion, outpolled Open Mind and Sky Beauty in the contemporary female category. A winner of 15 of 23 starts, her biggest victories came in the 1998 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and 1999 Kentucky Oaks.

Maple, 60, who retired in 1998, beat out the retired Randy Romero and Alex Solis among jockeys. Maple won 4,398 races during his career, including the Belmont Stakes on Creme Fraiche and Temperence Hill. He also rode Secretariat in his final start. This was Maple's seventh time on the ballot.

In previous years, Maple said, "I'd be disappointed, jump up and down, stomp my feet, and say I didn't care what happens."

"But it's a tough choice for the people involved. There are people out there who are very talented and have compiled very good records, so how mad can you stay?"

Maple called getting into the Hall of Fame "a real privilege."

Tiznow, trained by Jay Robbins for breeder Cecilia Straub-Rubens and co-owner Michael Cooper, is the only two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic. He was named Horse of the Year in 2000. Tiznow defeated Best Pal and Point Given in the contemporary male division.

According to the Hall's rules, only the top vote-getter in each category can be inducted each year. The Hall of Fame does not release vote totals. Of the 181 eligible voters, 175 returned ballots.

Elliot, 60, became second woman, and first female trainer, named to the Hall of Fame. Jockey Julie Krone, now retired, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000. Elliot, a protege of Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, ranks third in career earnings among steeplechase trainers. She has trained Eclipse Award winners Coreggio (1996) and Flat Top (1998 and 2002).

Ben Nevis II was owned by Redmond Stewart Jr. and trained and ridden by Charlie Fenwick. His biggest win came in the Grand National Steeplechase in Great Britain in 1980, when he became just the third United States-based horse to finish first. He joins the first two American winners, Battleship and Jay Trump, in the Hall of Fame.