08/08/2014 2:46PM

Hall of Fame honors past and present giants of the sport

Email
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.”