12/27/2007 1:00AM

Dale Baird killed in car crash

EmailDale Baird, the West Virginia-based trainer who never won a Grade 1 stakes race but won more races than any trainer in U.S. history, died on Sunday afternoon in a five-vehicle, multi-fatality car crash on an Indiana highway. Baird

was 72.

Baird was killed instantly when he was thrown from the SUV he was driving after it crossed the median of Interstate 70 in Hancock County and collided with a small car, according to Joe Hunt of the county sheriff's department. The small car was then rear-ended by a semi trailer, and two teenage passengers in the car were killed on impact, Hunt said. Another car then collided with the semi, and another car, trying to avoid the pile-up, ran into the


A passenger in Baird's SUV, Shelby Bartholomew, 35, was airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis to be treated for severe injuries. Hunt said that Bartholomew has been unable to recollect how the accident occurred. Baird's SUV was hauling an empty horse trailer.

"The road was becoming slick because of snow, and there were fairly high winds," Hunt said. "Those were probably factors. He apparently lost control of the truck and trailer and crossed the median."

Baird had amassed 9,445 victories in a career largely spent at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia with claiming horses he either owned or co-owned. He was never a household name, but was well known in the racing industry for the sheer number of his wins.

Baird was honored by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association in 2005 with a Special Achievement Eclipse Award to commemorate his long career and unprecedented win numbers. In 2004, Baird became the first trainer to win more than 9,000 races, and his career win total is 3,000 victories higher than any other trainer. Only three other trainers have won more than 5,000 races, and only two others, Jack Van Berg and King Leatherbury, have won more than 6,000.

A native of Martinsville, Ill., whose father was a trainer, Baird got his first career win at Ellis Park in Kentucky in 1961. In 1972, he moved his operation to West Virginia, and he has been based at Mountaineer Park - formerly Waterford Park - for 30 years.

From 1982 to 2001, Baird won every trainers' title at Mountaineer Park. From 1971 to 1999, he led the nation's trainers in wins for the year 15 times, and has been the year's leading owner by wins 17 times. In 1973, he became the first trainer in history to win more than 300 races in one year.

Baird's operation was run in an efficient, business-like manner. In one year, he bought and sold more than 200 horses, and he was never reluctant to drop a horse in class to get a victory, even if it meant losing the horse via claim.

Baird's single-year achievements have been eclipsed in recent years by the rise of trainers who operate stables with multiple bases of operation. In 2007, for example, both Steve Asmussen and Scott Lake have surpassed 470 wins.

Still, Baird is 23rd on the leading trainers' list this year, with 132 wins from 1,159 starters and purse earnings of $2 million. At Mountaineer's winter meet that started on Oct. 1, Baird is leading the trainer standings with 31 wins, 13 more than his closest rival.