09/08/2003 11:00PM

Dozen enter Washington Hall of Fame

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AUBURN, Wash. - The initial dozen inductees into the Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame - announced last Friday - have sparked debate and unleashed a flood of memories.

The same thing is likely to happen in succeeding years, when no more than three new candidates will be inducted in a single year, and that alone makes the project worthwhile. It's good to remember the past, and to honor those who made it memorable.

The original inductees include jockeys Gary Stevens, Gary Baze, and Ralph Neves; trainers Allen Drumheller, Jim Penney, and Tom Smith; horses Trooper Seven, Chinook Pass, and Captain Condo; breeders Herb Armstrong and Jerre Paxton; and Longacres founder, the late Joe Gottstein, who will be honored with a lifetime achievement award.

There is no need to detail the achievements of Stevens and Baze, whose accomplishments are thoroughly familiar to Northwest racing fans, but it takes a veteran fan to remember Ralph Neves, who retired in 1964 after a 30-year career.

Neves began riding at Longacres in 1934 and was the track's leading rider in 1935 and 1938, when he won the Longacres Mile aboard Triplane. He went on to top the standings at Del Mar in 1939 and 1946, and he finished in the top three at Golden Gate six times. Neves, the regular rider for national Hall of Fame horses Round Table and Native Diver, was elected to the national Hall of Fame in 1960. When he retired, Neves ranked sixth on the all-time wins list with 3,772.

The trainer selections reflect the importance of the Longacres Mile in Washington racing, because Drumheller and Penney are the only trainers to have saddled four Mile winners. Tom Smith never won the Longacres Mile, but he trained at Longacres through the track's first four seasons and he was the leading trainer in 1935. He later trained six national champions, including Seabiscuit.

The overriding importance of the Longacres Mile is also evident in the selection of horses, as Trooper Seven became the first horse to win back-to-back Miles in 1980 and 1981, and Chinook Pass won the race in 1983, the same year he collected an Eclipse Award as the nation's top sprinter.

The best that Captain Condo could do in the Mile was finish second in 1991 and third in 1990, but he won 30 of 70 career starts and equaled Firesweeper's mark of 12 stakes wins at Longacres. By objective standards there might be more deserving candidates for induction, but no Washington race fan was ever objective about Captain Condo. The big roan, who now rests in the infield at Emerald Downs, had more charisma than Elvis and was undoubtedly the most popular horse ever to race in Washington.

Herb Armstrong dominated the state's breeding industry from 1945 through 1959, winning five money-won titles and 14 races-won titles during that span. Jerre Paxton was Washington's leading breeder by earnings for 12 straight years, from 1984 through 1995.

As for Joe Gottstein, he not only founded Longacres in 1933, but virtually created the entire Washington Thoroughbred industry from scratch and continued to shape it until his death in 1971. Among his lasting achievements were the creation of the Longacres Mile as the richest mile race in the country in 1935 and the incorporation of the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association in 1940.

The inaugural class will be inducted into the Washington Thoroughbred Hall of Fame at a banquet to be held at Emerald Downs on the eve of the first Washington Cup Day, on Sunday, Sept. 21. Each living inductee will be presented with an engraved plaque and a lifetime pass to all events at Emerald Downs, and all inductees will be honored with photographs and plaques in a designated area at Emerald.

In future years, candidates for induction must be named on 75 percent of the ballots cast by 16 representatives of the track, WTBA, HBPA, and media, and no more than three inductions will be made per year.

There is no shortage of worthy candidates, by the way. Among those eligible for induction are jockeys Russell Baze, Vicky Baze, Larry Pierce, and Johnny Adams; trainers Charlie Whittingham, Glen Williams, Bud Klokstad, and Kathy Walsh; and horses Saratoga Passage, Firesweeper, Turbulator, and Biggs.

* Kevin Radke continued his assault on Vann Belvoir's record of 148 wins at a single Emerald Downs meet last week with seven wins in four days of racing. With nine days remaining in the meet, Radke has 138 wins.

* The Washington Horse Racing Commission will meet Thursday, Sept. 11, at 10:30 a.m. in Auburn's Veteran's Memorial Park Building, which is located at 411 E Street NE.

* Catalogs are now available for the Oregon Thoroughbred Breeders Association's annual mixed sale and stallion showcase, which will be held at Oakhurst Farm in Newberg, Ore., on Saturday, Sept. 27.