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Monitoring the Hall: Who's in, who's out?
In 1955, when the Racing Hall of Fame was launched in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., organizers felt a need to make the first induction class a big one. The doors opened for 10 horses, nine jockeys, and six trainers. Curiously, nine more horses were inducted in 1956, but Man o' War was asked to wait until 1957 for his enshrinement, an early indication the Hall of Fame was going to be a work in progress. The sounds of that progress can be heard, like drips from the kitchen faucet.
Among the nine original jockey inductees, 22 years after his death, was James Todhunter "Tod" Sloan, who was immortalized in George M. Cohan's 1904 New York musical, "Little Johnny Jones," the show that included the rousing anthem "Give My Regards to Broadway." Nine ways to Sunday, I've looked at the sketchy accounts of Sloan's turn-of-the-century riding career, both here and in England, and have been unable to see why he ever qualified for the Hall of Fame. John Nerud, the 97-year-old former trainer who was elected to the Hall in 1972, is still not old enough to have seen Sloan ride, but he is one of the few around who can recall the flamboyant jockey's hard-living, self-promoting reputation.
"Sloan shouldn't be in the Racing Hall of Fame," Nerud said. "But he may belong in the actors' Hall of Fame."
Sloan, whose two marriages were to actresses, never played himself in "Little Johnny Jones," but he did try the New York stage in a short-lived one-man show and appeared briefly in a few Hollywood films. He lived to be 59, a victim of cirrhosis of the liver, and was virtually broke at the end. The many gamblers he regularly consorted with during his riding days had deserted him.
Sloan rode his first winner in 1889, but the Hall of Fame lists his career as running from 1893 to 1900. He was refused a license in England in 1901 and never rode again. For three years, Sloan won with 40 percent of his mounts, which put him in Isaac Murphy territory, but his career would not have been long enough to qualify for the Hall under its current 20-year rule for jockeys, or even a previous rule that required a minimum of 15 years. In his autobiography, modestly titled "Tod Sloan, By Himself," Sloan said Hamburg, a Hall of Fame inductee in 1986, was the only "great" horse he ever rode. But Sloan only rode Hamburg at the end of his career, and 13 of the horse's 16 wins came with other jockeys in the saddle.
A review of the Hall of Fame roster indicates there are other horses and horsemen who may have been enshrined with marginal credentials, just as there are viable candidates who have been overlooked. This year's election once again bypassed Sky Beauty, who won nine Grade 1 races and swept New York's triple crown series for fillies. Also falling short was Bob Wheeler, who trained 56 horses that won stakes and at the time of his death, in 1992, ranked fifth on the list of stakes-winning trainers at Santa Anita.
Since its inception, the Hall of Fame had been a hodgepodge of eligibility and voting rules, and there are reports the system will be revamped again next year. Some candidates have benefited, others have suffered as a result of the changes. There was a time when there were five candidates for each division - male horses, female horses, trainers, and jockeys. Later, those divisions were narrowed to three candidates each. For a brief period, candidates could not be elected unless they received 75 percent of the vote, a misguided attempt to ape the system at the Baseball Hall of Fame. This year, in another twist, the electorate of 182 voters was limited to voting for four of 10 candidates as horses (6), trainers (2), and jockeys (2) were integrated in the absence of specific categories.
On June 9, the Hall of Fame's 12-member Historic Review Committee, which meets every other year to consider candidates that may have been overlooked by the regular elections, added three members to this year's class: Harry Bassett, a 19th century horse; trainer Michael Ernest "Buster" Millerick; and jockey Don Pierce.
A 16-member nominating committee is responsible for choosing the names sent to the electorate, and sometimes just getting on the ballot is problematic. This year, for example, neither John Velazquez nor Garrett Gomez, who have won four of the last six Eclipse Awards for riding and combined for at least 7,600 wins and $384 million in purses, was on the ballot. Randy Romero and Alex Solis were repeat nominees, and Romero was elected, by his own count, on the eighth try. Pat Day, for Pete's sake, once had trouble getting on the ballot. He was first eligible in 1988 but didn't come before the voters until three years later, when he was quickly enshrined. Along the way, I kept asking nominators what was going on.
"Maybe people didn't like the way he rode Easy Goer in those races against Sunday Silence," one of them said in 1990.
I needed a second opinion.
"It might be the God stuff," another nominator said. "He thanks God every time he wins a race, and people get tired of it."
Frequently asked by the National Turf Writers Association why vote totals can't be announced, like the Baseball Hall of Fame does, Ed Bowen, chairman of the nominating committee, has said: "We don't want to embarrass anyone who doesn't get elected."
Were vote totals in racing revealed, the nominating committee might have a better idea about which horses and horsemen deserve additional chances.
The late Kent Hollingsworth, who shepherded the Racing Hall of Fame before Bowen, was also adamant about releasing vote totals. Years ago, I was sometimes able to secure the vote breakdown. In 1983, Coaltown went into the Hall after collecting only 29 percent of the vote. Two years later, Davona Dale was enshrined with 28 percent, and two years after that trainer Burley Parke made the grade with 34 percent.
I asked Hollingsworth if there was something wrong with candidates getting in despite such low totals. Hollingsworth had a law degree, and he gave a lawyerly answer: "It's a tribute to those candidates that they can prevail in such competitive elections."
Halls of Fame in other sports do much better, but they are also not without their critics. The names of Dan Fouts, a quarterback, and George Allen and John Madden, who coached, are frequently brought up by grousing writers who don't think they belong in the pro football shrine.
"Madden made it more because he was a TV analyst than anything else," said Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. "He won one Super Bowl, but he lost a batch of AFC title games."
Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance might be the Tod Sloan of the Baseball Hall of Fame. They didn't inspire a Broadway composer, but the Chicago Cubs' ballyhooed double-play combination moved Franklin P. Adams to verse. He took the viewpoint of a New York Giants fan when he wrote:
These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Making a Giant hit into a double -
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Tinker and Evers don't belong, some baseball writers have argued, and Bill James, the baseball guru, said all three were not Hall of Fame timber.
Beating up on the Racing Hall of Fame might be a regular pastime, but not for Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable and a member of the Hall's nominating committee.
"I honestly don't feel that there are glaring omissions or examples of flagrantly undeserving admissions to the Hall of Fame," Campbell said. "The fleas go with the dog - any Hall of Fame generates passion from the fans, sometimes to an unreasonable and warped extent. But one thing I must say is that the old way [of voting] was better. The system is bound to be imperfect in certain ways, but when weighing every aspect, having four categories and electing one per category is the most practical answer."
HORSES - WAITING TO BE CALLED
Spend a Buck
In a poll of 100 turf experts in 1988, the 1985 Horse of the Year was ranked 51st all time. In a poll 11 years later by The Blood-Horse, Spend a Buck was missing from the top 100. He was probably too high in one poll, slighted in the other. Voters in the earlier poll may have been influenced by the immediacy of Spend a Buck's career, which ended prematurely, because of an injury, midway through 1985.
He never won a Breeders' Cup race, he beat older horses the only time he faced them, and he still has the fourth-fastest time in Kentucky Derby history.
As significant as Spend a Buck's record - 10 wins in 15 starts - was his impact on the Triple Crown. By skipping the Preakness and the Belmont in order to hone in on a $2 million Jersey Derby bonus put up by Garden State Park, he spurred Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park into offering a sponsored $5 million bonus that would make their races more attractive.
There is precedent for enshrining a European horse who raced sparingly in the U.S. The French-based Miesque, whose only two U.S. starts resulted in convincing wins in the Breeders' Cup Mile, was installed at Saratoga Springs in 1999. High Chaparral came from Ireland to win the Breeders' Cup Turf twice, albeit in a dead heat with Johar in the 2003 running. Overall, High Chaparral lost only three times out of 13 races, twice coming in third in the Arc de Triomphe.
If trainer Woody Stephens were still alive, he would be on the rooftops demanding to know why Bald Eagle isn't in the Hall of Fame. He won the Washington D.C. International twice, in 1959-60, when it was the premier grass race in North America. In 1960, while no match for the 3-year-old Kelso, Bald Eagle was still voted best older male horse, after winning the Widener, Gulfstream Park, Metropolitan, and Aqueduct handicaps. He carried 130 pounds in the last of those wins and beat Sword Dancer, the 1959 Horse of the Year, in the other three.
In the first 14 races of her career, Open Mind notched 12 wins and 2 seconds, at distances from six furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. She won the 1988 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in the mud, clinching an Eclipse Award, and she did so much throughout 1989 that voters gave her another Eclipse even though she finished third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. From late 1988 until the fall of 1989, she reeled off 10 straight wins (one with the help of a disqualification), a blitz that included the Kentucky Oaks, the New York filly triple crown, and the Alabama.
Her biggest roadblocks to the Hall of Fame are two poor performances in the Breeders' Cup and the fact that she raced in the 1990's, a decade that produced seven distaffers who have been enshrined. She lost only through disqualification at 2, and Eliza captured the Eclipse. At 3, Sky Beauty's five straight wins included the New York filly triple and the Alabama, but Hollywood Wildcat trounced her in the Breeders' Cup to top the division. At 4, Sky Beauty went on another five-race tear, and the Eclipse voters were willing to overlook another dull effort in the Breeders' Cup. Outside the Breeders' Cup, Sky Beauty was 19-15-2-2, nine of the wins in Grade 1 races.
ALREADY CALLED, BUT DO THEY BELONG?
The Blood-Horse had no room for Tim Tam in its 100-horse all-time poll, probably because of his abbreviated record. The star-crossed colt's career mirrored Charismatic's, although Tim Tam never ran for a claiming price. Both horses caught fire early in their 3-year-old seasons. After winning the Florida Derby, Tim Tam caught a muddy track, the kind he loved, in the Kentucky Derby that exposed Silky Sullivan, the overrated underlay from California. Tim Tam also won the Preakness and courageously finished second as he swerved toward the finish in the Belmont. He cracked a sesamoid bone, and his career was over.
Whisk Broom II
All but a month of Whisk Broom's career was spent in England, where he won 7 of 23 starts, none of the wins at a distance farther than a mile. At Belmont as a 6-year-old in 1913, he quickly won the Metropolitan, Brooklyn, and Suburban, carrying 130 and 139 pounds in the last two. A planned Saratoga campaign was aborted when Whisk Broom suffered a career-ending injury. He was enshrined in 1979, more than seven decades after his last race. The difference between Whisk Broom and Miesque, who was enshrined 20 years later, is that Miesque came from Europe twice to win Breeders' Cup races, and her career there was impeccable.
This filly was admitted the same year as Whisk Broom II, but at least the 1979 class had the redoubtable Forego. Three of Myrtlewood's races were match races, and in two of her wins she ran in five- and three-race fields at Keeneland. Neither the 1988 nor the 1999 all-time polls gave her a tumble.
The sire of Man o' War, Fair Play also sired Fairmount, a Hall of Fame steeplechaser. But on the track, Fair Play was beaten 7 of 10 times as a 2-year-old and failed to hit the board in six tries when he was sent to England as a 4-year-old. In between, he won 7 of 16 starts.
His first season, 1923, was Hall of Fame caliber - 10 starts, 10 wins. His last 2 1/2 seasons, 1926-28, were abysmal - 16 straight losses. The operative word in his past-performance trouble lines was "sulked." Lifetime, he won 27 times, carrying top weights throughout, which at least earned him the distinction of being the best horse ever named after a golfer.
JOCKEYS - WAITING TO BE CALLED
"A part of me says Cash should be considered for the Hall of Fame," said Neil Milbert, former turf writer for the Chicago Tribune. "He was outstanding before he left for France, and he came back intermittently to win some big North American races," he said, referring to the Arlington Million, the Washington D.C. International, the Canadian International, and the Breeders' Cup Mile. "Horses like All Along and Miesque have come from Europe and gotten into our Hall of Fame. Cash's record in Europe stamps him as one of the best American riders of our time."
John McEvoy, who has been writing mystery novels with racetrack backdrops since closing a 33-year career with Daily Racing Form, noted that jockeys from the Midwest have trouble making the Hall, largely because few voters are concentrated there.
"Larry Snyder will never get in, but he deserves enshrinement," he said. "He quit riding in 1996, and he's largely forgotten, but he won 200 races a year for 30 years and wound up with 6,388 wins." Snyder ranks 11th on the all-time win list.
"Craig Perret deserves the honor," said John Nerud, the Hall of Fame trainer. "He was a great big-race rider."
Perret's stakes wins include the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont, the Travers, the Florida Derby, the Haskell, the Laurel Futurity, the Vosburgh, the Spinster, the Flamingo, the Arlington-Washington Futurity, the Pimlico Special, the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Wood Memorial, the Molson Million, the Hopeful, and the Clark Handicap. Many of these races he has won more than once, and by the way, he has won four Breeders' Cup races. A few years ago, when Perret was on the ballot, he ranked 28th in purses with $113 million and 34th in wins with 4,415.
All right, Velazquez wasn't eligible until 2010, but his absence from the ballot still qualified as a glaring oversight. The protean rules say 20 years in the saddle are enough, and the rules don't say anything about "wait till next year." If Velazquez hasn't done enough, no one has: through Monday, 4,323 wins and stakes wins that take up two full pages in the New York Racing Association media guide.
Psst. Somebody tell the Hall's nominating committee that Gomez has been eligible since 2008 (see Snubs, Pat Day, 1988-90). From 2005 through 2009, Gomez's mounts have won 1,194 races and earned almost $100 million. His career wins are triple that. Going into this year, he has had 23 wins in races worth $1 million or more, including nine in the Breeders' Cup. The statute of limitations should have kicked in on the two years Gomez didn't ride because of substance abuse problems.
ALREADY CALLED, BUT DO THEY BELONG?
By most accounts, the big races Sloan won were the Manhattan Handicap and the Lawrence Realization in the U.S., and the 1000 Guineas and the Ascot Gold Cup in England. That's it. At the end of his riding career, having been asked to leave England, he went to Paris and volunteered to be a sharpshooter in the French Army. First, they said, you're an American. Second, you're too short. "That's why you need me," Sloan said. "I will be a smaller target than anyone else." I'm told the Comedians' Hall of Fame in Las Vegas won't be open until 2012.
Lavelle "Buddy" Ensor
Although Ensor won only 411 races, it shouldn't necessarily be held against him. What does work against him is that his heyday was awfully short. He won an occasional race with Exterminator and Grey Lag, both Hall of Famers, but in 1921, when Ensor was 22, The Jockey Club revoked his license. "No reason was given," wrote The New York Times, "but the revocation was the climax of several suspensions for failure to keep himself in condition." Ensor didn't regain his license until 1932. There were no specific charges against him for race-fixing, but he was a heavy drinker and gambler. In 1942, Audax Minor, writing in The New Yorker, said: "Although [Ensor] could get the best from a horse, he could never get the best from himself. Twenty years ago his license was tabled by The Jockey Club after he had gone for a week of high jinks in New Orleans, during which he was said to have spent about $75,000." In 1947, a body found in a cemetery in Queens, N.Y., was transferred to a morgue. The cause of death was said to be pneumonia. Days later it was identified as Buddy Ensor, who was 47.
His riding career lasted three years, 1923 to 1925, before he took up training like his brother, Burley Parke, who was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1986. Ivan Parke went into the Hall as a jockey eight years before, even though he won only 419 races. He might have been a better candidate for the Hall as a trainer. He trained Hoop Jr., winner of the 1945 Derby, and in 1965 he helped a future Hall of Fame trainer. The young man had a one-horse New York stable, claimed a filly for $10,000, and had no place to put her. Ivan Parke gave Bobby Frankel one of his extra stalls.
The rider of Imp, Turner's plaque at Saratoga Springs says, but he rode the iron mare only seven times, which was 4 percent of her 171-race career. Early on, Turner moved to France and had his best riding years there before his retirement in 1914. Cash Asmussen, anybody?
What do you do with a rider who wins Triple Crown races in bunches but otherwise has only a handful of Grade 1 wins? No, this isn't about Calvin Borel. It wasn't until 1996, 102 years after his last ride, that Barbee was enshrined. That's a lot of thought. He won the Preakness three times, including the first running with Survivor in 1873, and also won the Travers twice, but his career wasn't long enough to qualify by current Hall standards.
Speaking of Borel, when he finally makes the ballot, Nerud will not be on the bandwagon.
"Get him out of Kentucky, and he's dead," Nerud said. "I don't think he's a great race rider."
TRAINERS - WAITING TO BE CALLED
"Hollendorfer is the biggest omission on the lists of those that ought to be in," says Steve Davidowitz, the author/handicapper who writes for Daily Racing Form's Simulcast Weekly. "It is completely inexplicable that he was not on the ballot this year, given his extraordinary history of success in Northern California and his victories in major stakes with limited opportunities. If Hollendorfer has not earned a place in the Hall of Fame, there is no Hall of Fame worth talking about."
Another writer, Nick Kling of the Troy (N.Y.) Record, says: "Hollendorfer's exclusion may be based on a bias against Northern California horsemen because it is a lesser circuit. Hollendorfer horses have won almost 5,700 races, the fourth-highest total, and among his wins are three Kentucky Oaks, the Haskell, the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Santa Anita Derby, and the Santa Anita Handicap. It's egregious that Hollendorfer wasn't included on the ballot."
R.H. "Red" McDaniel
Late in the afternoon on May 5, 1955, McDaniel gave jockey Ralph Neves a leg up on the horse that would win the sixth race at Golden Gate Fields, left the track before the race, and drove to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. McDaniel, 44, jumped to his death, and afterward they found mutuel tickets worth $3,000 in his pocket. There was no suicide note, and McDaniel was at the top of his game. In the five previous years, he had saddled 905 winners, winning the national title each year and breaking the record for wins with 211 in 1953. In five months in 1955, McDaniel's horses earned enough to place him third nationally, behind Charlie Whittingham and Woody Stephens, at the end of the year.
"Red should be in the Hall of Fame," said Pete Pedersen, a retired racing official who worked West Coast tracks for more than 70 years. "He was one of the first guys to put big stables together and make it work."
A young Bill Shoemaker rode many of McDaniel's horses. One 41-day meet at Del Mar, Shoemaker rode 94 winners, and McDaniel saddled 47, most of them with Shoemaker riding. Claiming was McDaniel's game, but he also won 11 stakes at Del Mar as well as the Santa Anita Handicap and the Santa Anita Maturity (now known as the Strub), and at Bay Meadows he upset Citation with A Lark in 1951.
He was 72 when killed in an accident with a horse trailer two days before Christmas in 2007. Baird trained 9,455 winners, about 3,000 more than Jack Van Berg, who is No. 2 on the list. Trafficking in cheap horses, most of whom ran at Mountaineer Racetrack and its antecedent, Waterford Park, in West Virginia, Baird led the country in training wins 15 times and was the leading owner in wins 17 times. He was honored with a special Eclipse Award in 2004.
"He won his races in the bushes, but he still deserves to be in there," said Hall of Fame trainer John Nerud. "Because he owned almost all of his horses. To win that many races, and train and own the horses at the same time, nobody's ever done that."
"Wheeler's problem," wrote Kling in the Troy (N.Y.) Record, "is that his prime was too long ago to be remembered by some younger voters. The biography of Wheeler, put out by the Hall of Fame, doesn't do justice to his accomplishments. He won almost every race there was in California."
Wheeler, who died in 1992, has been on the ballot many times. At the time of his death, only four trainers were ahead of him in stakes wins at Santa Anita. He trained 56 horses to win stakes, including Silver Spoon, one of only three fillies to win the Santa Anita Derby. Among his other stakes winners were Bug Brush, Taisez Vous, B. Thoughtful, Petrone, Dotted Swiss, Cadiz, and Miss Todd.
The California-based Stute, 83, has been on the ballot several times, and once even said that he might turn down the honor if he were ever elected. He is at the 2,000-win plateau, and his horses have earned $54 million, most of the total coming in grind-it-out fashion. His major winners included Snow Chief, a Preakness winner and best 3-year-old male in 1985. In succeeding years, Stute saddled Brave Raj to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and clinch an Eclipse, and he haltered the filly Very Subtle for a win in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. He won 12 training titles at Southern California's major meets.
ALREADY CALLED, BUT DO THEY BELONG?
The vote for trainer in the 1968 Hall of Fame election must have been a shocker. Childs edged out Bill Winfrey by three votes. Childs had won the Kentucky Derby with Tomy Lee nine years before but had never trained a champion. Tomy Lee, who didn't run in the Preakness or the Belmont, lost out to Sword Dancer in the voting for best 3-year-old in 1959. By 1968, Winfrey had already trained seven champions, including Hall of Famers Bed o' Roses, Native Dancer, and Buckpasser. Winfrey was finally enshrined in 1971. When Childs' career ended in 1972, he was still looking for that first champion.
"Perhaps the best thing Carey Winfrey ever did was give us Bill Winfrey," said Pete Pedersen, a West Coast racing official for almost three-quarters of a century.
Actually, Bill Winfrey was Carey Winfrey's stepson, but he did learn the game from his stepfather en route to a Hall of Fame career of his own. Carey Winfrey, inducted in 1975, four years after his stepson, trained Dedicate, who before the Eclipse Awards was voted Horse of the Year in 1957 by the Thoroughbred Racing Association.
William P. Burch
He was the father of Preston Burch and the grandfather of Elliott Burch, who are also in the Hall of Fame. William Burch, inducted in 1955, saddled his last horse in 1926. His record probably pales because it was eclipsed by the other Burches. Asked before a running of the Belmont Stakes if a horse could go 1 1/2 miles, William Burch said: "Certainly, if you give him enough time." Preston Burch, who lived into his 90's, was also using that line, right to the end.
"Phil was a good horseman, but not a Hall of Famer," John McEvoy said.
One of racing's great raconteurs, Johnson was elected in 1997, his third time on the ballot. His enshrinement came five years before his biggest victory, Volponi's 43-1 upset in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic. Johnson won at least one race at Saratoga for 36 straight seasons and missed winning at the Spa only one time out of 41 years.
Training from 1887 until 1925, Duke did not have a long career in the U.S. He trained mostly in France, where he had much success with horses owned by W.K. Vanderbilt and the Aga Khan. Back home in 1925, Duke won the Preakness (run before the Kentucky Derby), the Derby, and the Travers with different horses - Coventry, Flying Ebony, and Dangerous. At 68, he died from pneumonia the next year.
* Handicapping roundups from Belmont, Churchill, Hollywood, Monmouth, Calder, and Woodbine
* Jay Privman's Q&A with Rick Violette
* Matt Hegarty on fixing New York's OTBs