08/12/2016 2:20PM

Hovdey: The torch still burns for Hall veterans


A highlight of any Hall of Fame ceremony, like the one Friday at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is the introduction of past Hall of Famers who have managed to unearth their dark blue Hall of Fame blazers and show up for a deserving round of applause.

There is something reassuring in the informal recognition of such living legends, setting the stage as they do for the individuals about to join them in the Hall. Tradition sometimes can be distracting and continuity overrated, but in this case, it does the heart and soul good to know that certain bars have been set at their lofty heights for many years, and will be for years to come.

The Hall of Famers called forward on Friday included jockeys Eddie Maple, Chris McCarron, John Velazquez, Jose Santos, Angel Cordero, Jorge Velasquez, Manny Ycaza, Braulio Baeza, and Walter Blum. The Thoroughbred trainers on hand were Bill Mott, Carl Nafzger, D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, Shug McGaughey, and Jonathan Sheppard. The steeplechase wing was represented by not only Sheppard, who bestrides both worlds, but also Janet Elliot and Jerry Fishback. Their records are public, and imposing.

The arc of the Hall of Fame began in 1955 with the induction of nine horses, 12 jockeys, and six trainers. None of them were Man o’ War, Eddie Arcaro, or Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, which should give you a pretty good idea of how deep the Hall of Fame founders dove to stock the freshman class.

Over the decades, the rules for induction have changed, sometimes even for the better. At the end of the day, though, the right people and the right horses seem to end up in the Hall of Fame, no matter how long it takes.

It is a good thing that Hall of Famers are still striding around the game, in whatever capacities, and the demographics of the Class of 2016 offer the prospect of more of the same. Steve Asmussen is 50, Ramon Dominguez is 39, Zenyatta is 12, and Rachel Alexandra is 10. Long may they hang around.

On that score, here are the Hall of Famers who have been around the longest:

We’ll split the honor among trainers. Jack Van Berg was inducted in 1985 at the tender age of 49 and gets to tell folks he’s been in the Hall of Fame longer than any other trainer, even Ron McAnally, who joined the Hall in 1990. At 84, though, McAnally is the oldest living trainer in the Hall, and for those who just tuned in, McAnally trained Donut King to win the 1961 Champagne Stakes and Quick Casablanca to win the 2016 San Juan Capistrano. Some guys never give up.

Claiborne Farm was very much in the Hall of Fame spotlight on Friday with the induction of Arthur “Bull” Hancock Jr. and William Woodward Sr. as Pillars of the Turf. Hancock developed Claiborne into a world-class breeding establishment, and the Woodward family was deeply involved.

It is fitting, then, that the oldest living female racehorse in the Hall of Fame is Inside Information, the champion older mare of 1995 and a hale and happy 25 living in a pasture with other retired mares at Claiborne Farm. Racing for Ogden Mills Phipps, Inside Information is a granddaughter of Damascus, who carried the Woodward colors through the Bancroft branch of the family and was Horse of the Year in 1967. Damascus is buried at Claiborne Farm.

Zenyatta lives at Lane’s End Farm. So does A.P. Indy, who is 27 and ranks as the oldest living male Hall of Famer. A.P. Indy was retired from stallion duties last year. With champions like Mineshaft, Bernardini, and Honor Code at stud, plus daughters such as Rags to Riches, Secret Status, Dreaming of Julia, and Got Lucky, chances are his legacy is set for decades to come.

It was great to see Walter Blum, 81, introduced with his contemporaries Manny Ycaza, 78, and Braulio Baeza, 76, at the ceremony. They all take a backseat, however, to Sam Boulmetis Sr., who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973 alongside Bold Ruler, Hollie Hughes, and Fred Burlew. Boulmetis is 89.

“I was with Sam just last Sunday at a family gathering,” said Tony Black, whose mother, Margie, is Sam’s sister. “He’s doing fine.”

Black, 65, has never officially retired but has not ridden a race for several months. Black’s record of 5,208 winners dwarfs Boulmetis’s total of 2,783. Then again, Boulmetis rode only until age 39 before retiring to become a racing official.

The Boulmetis record is replete with quality stakes wins, including the Washington, D.C., International, the Beldame, the Widener, the Brooklyn Handicap, the Laurel Futurity, and three runnings of the Monmouth Handicap on his home turf.

“We must have visited for three or four hours,” Black said. “He had a stellar career, and it wasn’t really plagued with injuries. A broken leg might have been the worst he had. He was in good shape physically when he got out, and he told me he never missed getting on horses. He had a new career to go into as an official, and that’s how he wanted to stay in the game and make a contribution.

“He was a hard ass, but he had a real respect level among jockeys, and he was truly professional,” Black added. “We could use a few more like him in the stewards’ stand today.”