06/09/2010 12:00AM

Millerick, Pierce named to Hall of Fame


Don Pierce, whose 30-year career included 351 stakes wins, has been elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame through the organization's historic review process, along with trainer Michael "Buster" Millerick and the 19th century racehorse Harry Bassett, the Hall announced on Wednesday.

Pierce, 73, retired in 1984 after a career that started at New Mexico's Ruidoso Downs and took him as far as South Africa and Malaysia. Along the way, he won 3,546 races, according to the Hall of Fame, including nearly every major stakes race in Southern California.

"I've had a lot of good things happen to me, but this tops them all," Pierce said on Wednesday from Del Mar, where he retired 15 years ago following stints as a trainer and jockey's agent.

Pierce, Millerick, and Harry Bassett will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Aug. 13 in Saratoga Springs. They will join the horses Azeri, Best Pal, and Point Given, along with jockey Randy Romero, who were elected earlier this year through the Hall's contemporary voting process. The historic review committee considers candidates who have been inactive for more than 25 years.

Although Pierce said that the 1964 Santa Anita Derby winner, Hill Rise, was the best horse he ever rode, Pierce said that his favorite horse was probably Silky Sullivan, the California racehorse whose late-running tactics earned him the adoration of racing fans. Pierce rode Silky Sullivan during the late stages of the horse's career, but at a time when Pierce was trying to establish himself as a top jockey in a colony that included future Hall of Famers Bill Shoemaker and Eddie Arcaro.

"He brought the fans out by the thousands, and his success was my success," Pierce said. "He kind of put me on the lead."

Pierce rode frequently for Millerick, who trained on the West Coast for most of his 50-year career. Millerick was most well-known for training Native Diver, another Southern California star who won 37 starts, including 34 stakes, during an 81-race career. Native Diver died at the age of 10 of colic after becoming racing's seventh horse to earn more than $1 million in purses.

In total, Millerick trained 54 stakes winners and won 1,886 races before retiring in 1984. He won the training titles at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar multiple times, and was "probably the most well-thought of trainer in California," Pierce said.

"[Riders] knew they were on a live horse" when riding for Millerick, Pierce said. "He always ran his horses. And he always told you the truth. Some guys don't always tell you the truth."

Harry Bassett won 3 of 4 starts at 2, and won all nine of his starts as a 3-year-old, including the Belmont Stakes. He was named champion 2-year-old in 1870 and champion 3-year-old the next year. As a 4-year-old, he pushed his winning streak to 14 races before losing the Monmouth Cup to Longfellow, another Hall of Famer.

In his next start, Harry Bassett won a Saratoga race on July 13, 1872, and then returned to the track three days later to win the 2 1/4-mile Saratoga Cup, beating Longfellow and setting a course record. Though he tailed off later in his career, he retired with 23 wins from 36 starts, with 5 seconds and 3 thirds.