08/07/2013 1:47PM

Jay Hovdey: Hall of Fame induction for Lure, Housebuster long overdue

Barbara D. Livingston
Lure wins the 1992 Breeders' Cup Mile. He scored a repeat win in 1993.

What’s a horse have to do to get into the Hall of Fame?

How about if he runs 22 times in 24 months and wins 15 races, 14 of those wins in stakes races and 12 of those graded.

What if his record includes a streak during which he came within a neck of winning 12 straight stakes? Or maybe if the three times he finished second the three horses that beat him were a Kentucky Derby winner and two Horses of the Year?

No? Not good enough?

Okay, what about a horse who runs 25 times in 36 months, wins 14, finishes second eight times and wins $2.5 million, mostly because he was best in just about every grass race of any significance run between 8 and 9 1/2 furlongs for two solid years, including two versions of the Breeders’ Cup Mile?

Wait, you say? Let’s not be hasty?

Well, time has finally come on Friday for two of the finest, most charismatic Thoroughbreds ever to grace American soil to join Man o’ War, Citation, Dr. Fager, Secretariat, and the rest of the best of the breed in the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Horse Racing in Saratoga Springs.

Housebuster, a foal of 1987, was eligible for Hall of Fame induction beginning in 1997. No sprinter since then has come close to his record of brilliance and durability. In his fifth start he beat subsequent Preakness winner Summer Squall in the Swale Stakes. In his 10th start he lost the Met Mile by a neck to Criminal Type, who went on to be Horse of the Year. In his final season, Housebuster won the Frank J. De Francis at Pimlico, the Forego at Saratoga, and the Vosburgh at Belmont Park before he went lame as the odds-on choice in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Lure, a foal of 1989, has been eligible to the Hall of Fame since 2000. He was top dog during a fiercely competitive middle-distance turf era that included Paradise Creek, Star of Cozzene, and Fourstars Allstar. From the moment Shug McGaughey put Lure on the grass, in September of 1992, through his narrow loss in the 1994 running of the Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park, Lure raced 17 times, won 11, and finished second in the other six. Lure’s final race for Claiborne Farm was an unsuccessful attempt to win a third straight Breeders’ Cup Mile, but there was no reason for him to hang his head.

So the question remains: Why did it take so long for my fellow Hall of Fame nominators to come to terms with Housebuster and with Lure, and put them to a vote? The answer is embodied in the third contemporary Thoroughbred to be inducted alongside Housebuster and Lure in the class of 2013.

His name is Invasor.

This was Invasor’s first year of eligibility to the Hall of Fame. Bred in Argentina and raced early in Uruguay, he went on to win the game’s two richest main track mile and one-quarter races – the Dubai World Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic – plus such historically significant events as the Donn, the Whitney, the Suburban, and the Pimlico Special while trained with great care and pinpoint precision by Kiaran McLaughlin for the Shadwell Stable of Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum. For six races over 10 months between May of 2006 and March of 2007 he was the best at what he did, attested to by his selection as 2006 Horse of the Year.

Still, it would not have hurt one bit to have let Invasor’s record simmer another couple of years, especially to see how it weathered in comparison to the careers of Mineshaft, Pleasantly Perfect, Saint Liam, and Curlin, the rest of the decade’s top older males. Even the heralded Ghostzapper, with his dizzying speed and 9-for-11 record, had to wait a year for inclusion on the ballot before he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012.

First-year induction into any sports Hall of Fame is a remarkable achievement. It speaks to a career that had pedestal engraved and waiting long before it reached the end. Mickey Mantle was a first-year Hall of Famer. Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Sandy Koufax. Ruffian, Secretariat, Affirmed. Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, Cigar. Those were first-year Hall of Famers.

Invasor would have been in the Hall eventually, but his rapid elevation tends to perpetuate the idea that one type of Thoroughbred is exalted above all others, and that competition on dirt between 9 and 10 furlongs is where the debate always begins and often ends in terms of everlasting greatness. Sprinters and grass horses can apply, but they shouldn’t get their hopes up. At least not right away.

Housebuster is the first male horse who could be described as strictly a sprint specialist to join the Hall since Roseben, who raced 111 times between 1903 and 1909, and was elected with the second Hall of Fame class, in 1956. In the era of the Eclipse Awards, dating to 1971, Housebuster has been the only horse to win two titles as champion sprinter. His owner and co-breeder, Robert Levy, thinks that’s what finally tipped the Hall his way.

"There’s not many horses who are champions for two years," said Levy, who will be on hand in Saratoga Springs for the ceremony. "But every now and then by some freak of luck you get a good horse like Housebuster. The secret is, when you get one just don’t butcher him up. Get him a good trainer, make sure he doesn’t over-race him, and don’t put him where he doesn’t belong."

Housebuster was trained in all but his first three starts by the late Jimmy Croll, a Hall of Famer in his own right.

"I knew this was big," Levy added. "But I never realized just how big it was until I saw who wasn’t in the Hall of Fame."

Levy’s right. When it comes to making the Hall of Fame the point is the destination, not the journey. Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner, who was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in his 13th year of eligibility, described it best.

"It’s not like the guys who get elected in their first year get Cadillacs and the rest of us get Chevys," Kiner said. "We all ride pretty nice cars in the Hall of Fame parade. It took me a while, but no one ever asks me, ‘What took you so long?’ "