08/08/2014 1:46PM

Hall of Fame honors past and present giants of the sport

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Barbara D. Livingston
Edward Bowen presents Alex Solis with his Hall of Fame plaque with fellow Hall of Fame jockeys Chris McCarron (left) and Laffit Pincay looking on.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The old-timers inducted during the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame ceremony Friday officially were a 19th century horse, Clifford, and a 19th century jockey, Lloyd Hughes.

But they also were the 20th century trainer Gary Jones and the modern rider Alex Solis.

Both had been on the Hall of Fame ballot multiple times before garnering enough votes this year for induction. Jones, who famously trained Best Pal, retired 20 years ago. Solis, 50, slowed by injuries and age, rides sparingly these days but racked up 20 riding titles on the Southern California circuit in his heyday between 1991 and 2002.

“I’m not going to say it’s about time to the voters because as you know, these guys have been on the ballot several times,” the Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron told the standing-room-only crowd before introducing both Solis and Jones. “I’m not going to say that. I’m just going to say thank you. Thank you.”

Solis, after thanking the horses he rode, his friends and family, his agents, and trainers, briefly recounted his journey from a young boy in Panama to his induction into the Hall of Fame.

“I am here today with all of you living something only you dream can happen,” he said, struggling with his emotions. He especially thanked the Panamanians who had gone before him into the Hall, a roster that includes Laffit Pincay Jr., Braulio Baeza, Manuel Ycaza, Jorge Velazquez, and Jacinto Vasquez.

During his acceptance speech, Gary Jones thanked the usual suspects, but he had special words for Rafael Becerra, the Southern California trainer who was his foreman.

“If it wasn’t for Rafael Becerra, I wouldn’t be here today,” Jones said.

He also praised his wife and sons, including Marty Jones, also a trainer.

Contemporary horses inducted during this year’s ceremony were Curlin, the two-time Horse of the Year, and Ashado, a two-time Eclipse Award winner.

Barbara Banke, who owned and raced Curlin with her late husband, Jess Jackson, said Curlin’s dominating two-year run in the sport took her enjoyment of Thoroughbred racing to a new level.

“I attribute my perhaps unhealthy obsession with racing to Curlin and his success on the racetrack,” Banke said.

On Friday morning, just before the ceremony, she said she visited with Jess’s Dream, a 2-year-old colt she owns who is by Curlin and is the first foal out of Rachel Alexandra, another Horse of the Year Banke and Jackson owned.

“This is a sport for dreamers,” she said. “Jess was a dreamer. I’m a dreamer. If you’re not a dreamer, you don’t belong in this sport.”

Curlin’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, did not attend the ceremony. He was taken off the Hall of Fame ballot earlier this year after the release of an undercover video edited by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that led racing commissions to launch investigations into his training operation. Asmussen strenuously has denied any allegations made by PETA.

Banke briefly mentioned Asmussen in her remarks, along with a litany of other individuals associated with Curlin, including his semi-famous pony, Poncho.

Like Curlin, Ashado was a two-time Eclipse Award winner, as the champion 3-year-old filly in 2004 and the champion older filly or mare in 2005. She was owned and raced by Starlight Stables, Johns Martin, and Paul Saylor.

Martin said Ashado took him and his family “on the ride of a lifetime” during her three-year racing campaign. He singled out trainer Todd Pletcher, a future Hall of Famer, whom he called “one of the best of all time,” and rider John Velazquez, a current Hall of Famer, for special credit.

Also inducted Friday were Edward R. Bradley, the late owner of Idle Hour Farm and an influential breeder, and Edward P. Taylor, the Canadian breeder and founder of Woodbine racetrack, as Pillars of the Turf. In a smartly written speech, John Phillips, the owner of Darby Dan Farm, which was built on part of the Idle Hour property, accepted on behalf of Bradley, who “left no heirs.” Noreen Taylor, the daughter-in-law of Edward P. Taylor, accepted the honor, with kind words for her father-in-law and his dedication to the sport.

Clifford was inducted on the basis of 42 lifetime wins in the 1890s, truly an iron horse for a different age. Lloyd Hughes, a jockey who rode in the late 1800s, was the first rider to win three Preakness Stakes.

The ceremony also included a video tribute to Tom Durkin, the New York Racing Association announcer who is retiring at the end of August. Durkin frequently has emceed the Hall of Fame ceremony.

Durkin was given a standing ovation by the crowd. He approached the microphone, tearing up, and said, “I’m going to give you two words I’ve never used in a race call. Thank you.”

Mike Lee More than 1 year ago
Was at the ceremony on Friday to see my favorite horse,Curlin's induction,and quite possibly had the best seat in the house!...the great Ron Turcotte to my right and Shug McGaughey to my left..was overwhelmed sitting in the company of my heros,including all of the great hall of fame jockeys and trainers as well as the new inductees.So many great characters in horse racing,I would like to thank Smarty Jones for introducing to all of them!
Hail No More than 1 year ago
That sounds like you had a great time! Wow, Shug and Ronnie :)
Chuck Seeger More than 1 year ago
Why King Leatherbury is not in the HOF is a complete joke. Look up his number if you don't believe me.
Stephen Stankiewicz More than 1 year ago
All very deserving of their inductions in the HOF. Next year maybe we can see Larry Snyder get into the HOF
Bill Lafield More than 1 year ago
Where was Judy Krone?
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Inducted in 2000, I believe, Bill..
anna villafane More than 1 year ago
Eddie Belmonte, one of the finest rider in the 60s and 70s in NY is past due to have been inducted into the HOF. I'm sure Allen Jerkens, among others great NY trainers, would have no problem vouching for him. He won the Preakness with Ethel Jacobs' Personality in 71 and beat the great Buckpasser with his patented patient ride on Handsome Boy in the1969 Suburban, among many other of his riding feats.
Dave Mckenna More than 1 year ago
eddie belmonte was a scumbag known race fixer, raised his son willie to be a lowlife trainer who was banned for juicing and then was allowed to ride at suffolk downs.
riconap More than 1 year ago
No excuse for this paper to misspell Jorge Velasquez. The middle "s" in the surname is often misspelled today with regard to Velasquez and Velazquez but you are not the NY Times or Sports Illustrated so there is no reason for this oversight.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
you are correct sir
Shawn Britton More than 1 year ago
Durkin! Durkin! Im so happy for alex solis well deserved
Hail No More than 1 year ago
It was a sham that Asmussen wasn't inducted
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
I agree.......PETA does a hit piece and he gets banned..
jon g More than 1 year ago
Asmussen should be in.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
I'm not a fan nor a detractor, but the pita nonsense, was just that
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Gary a year early with Asmussen debacle