03/12/2014 3:39PM

Jay Hovdey: For Perret, third Hall of Fame ballot may be the charm

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Barbara D. Livingston
This is the third Hall of Fame nomination for jockey Craig Perret, who is shown above atop Housebuster in 1990.

There are four jockeys nominated for the Hall of Fame this time around – Alex Solis, Chris Antley, Craig Perret, and Garrett Gomez – but first, a reminder that the Thoroughbred racing Hall of Fame is among a handful of such sporting institutions that honor their players while they are still playing. Last weekend, Hall of Famers were in action across the land.

On Saturday, John Velazquez (Class of 2012) kicked things off by winning a maiden race at Gulfstream Park, then later took a thriller on Palace Malice in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Calvin Borel (Class of 2013) chipped in with a win at Oaklawn Park, while Russell Baze (Class of 1999) won two at Golden Gate Fields.

Meanwhile, at Santa Anita, Gary Stevens (Class of 1997) won a pair, including the $75,000 China Doll Stakes with Diversy Harbor, trained by Tom Proctor. But it was Mike Smith who stole the Saturday show by winning the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap with Game On Dude, for the second straight year no less.

On Sunday, Hall of Famers Edgar Prado (Class of 2008) and Kent Desormeaux (Class of 2004) came through with winners at Gulfstream and Santa Anita, respectively. Baze added to his all-time total with another win at Golden Gate, and Stevens grabbed an allowance race on the Santa Anita turf, again for Proctor.

We’ll give Sunday to Velazquez, though. He jumped on a plane after his good Saturday in Florida and landed on Judy the Beauty at Santa Anita the next day to win the Grade 3 Las Flores.

None of the seven mentioned above has any say in who joins them in the Hall of Fame. That is the job of the 183 voters on the Hall of Fame panel, and they can vote for as many of the 10 candidates as they see fit – all 10 if they want – although only the top four vote-getters are admitted. (I’m pulling for a 10-way tie.) Kona Gold, Ashado, Xtra Heat, Curlin, Steve Asmussen, and Gary Jones are the other names on the 2014 ballot.

The durable Solis, who turns 50 on March 25, is still very active, with close to 5,000 wins and more than $240 million earned by his mounts as he tries to recapture his California glory days riding the New York-Florida-Kentucky circuit.

Antley, national champion and two-time Kentucky Derby winner, was a brilliant stylist with 3,480 wins who died just shy of his 34th birthday in December 2000 from what law enforcement officials ruled as injuries related to a drug overdose.

Gomez, 42, is a four-time national champion and two-time Eclipse winner with 13 wins in Breeders’ Cup events. Right now, he is in a self-imposed limbo, dealing with personal issues, and has not ridden since October.

Perret, who turned 63 last month, is the oldest of the group, but he doesn’t feel it. At least not as long as he keeps working with a pack of young Thoroughbreds, getting them ready each season for their racing careers.

“As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to horses, I had a Harvard education,” Perret said this week from his Louisville home. “I worked with a lot of the best people this game has ever seen, and I get a lot of satisfaction putting what I learned into young horses, looking for that one who might be special.”

Fit as he is, there must be a lingering temptation to follow one of those young horses into action.

“Look, I walked out of 37 years riding at a high level,” Perret said. “For that, I’m so grateful. So, let me do it on the other side of the fence now. Do I still remember the thrill? Of course I do. That never leaves you.”

Perret’s credentials as a Hall of Fame candidate are hard to fault, beginning with his 4,415 winners. Many of his major scores, of which there are many, had a way of leaning toward the historically dramatic.

Perret won the very first Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 1984 when he kept Eillo going long enough to beat Commemorate and Chris McCarron by a nose. In the 1987 Belmont Stakes, Perret unleashed Bet Twice to win by 14 lengths and dash Alysheba’s Triple Crown hopes. In the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, it was steady Perret on the filly Safely Kept for the win as all eyes were on runner-up Dayjur, who tried to hurdle a shadow late in the race.

Perret also played his part to perfection aboard Unbridled in the 1990 Kentucky Derby, providing the ultimate Kodak moment between Unbridled’s 92-year-old owner, Frances Genter, and her grateful trainer, Carl Nafzger.

For his 1990 exploits, Perret won the Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding jockey. He also was champion apprentice in 1976, which means the Louisiana native has been eligible to the Hall of Fame for more than 20 years. This is his third time on the ballot.

“My grandkids were saying last night, ‘Papa, you’re gonna get it this time,’ ” Perret said. “But you know what? Maybe I shouldn’t get it. I didn’t have to go and throw a brick through a window to get my name in the papers. And if I don’t get it, that way they can keep nominating me, and keep thinking about me.”