05/26/2011 3:03PM

New England Racing Hall of Fame names five new members


Trainer Ron Dandy and the late jockey Henry Wajda are among five men set to be inducted into the New England Racing Hall of Fame in the 2011 class.

Dandy was the dominant trainer on the circuit in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, while Wajda was the top rider from the 1960’s who died in a racing accident in 1973. They will be joined by the late Francis “Skip” McDonnell, one of the most successful owner/breeders in the region, plus Narragansett Park founder James “Judge” Dooley and leading turf writer Bob Waldo.

A winner of 15 meet championships at Suffolk Downs, Dandy won his first crown in 1985 but eventually came to dominate the New England circuit beginning in 1996, when he began a seven-year run where he lead the standings in 13 of 14 meets. A native of Nova Scotia, he won nearly 2,500 races in New England before shifting to the Mid-Atlantic in 2006. He racked up victories in claiming races, but his large stable usually housed stakes stars, the biggest being Graded stakes-winning sprinter Concorde Bound.

Wajda was the top jockey in New England with nine titles at Suffolk and Rockingham Park between 1958-66 and was in the top five in the nation in wins in 1963 and rode Mark Anthony to a world record in 1958. A native of New Hampshire, Wajda was closely liked with fellow New England riding legend Tony Despirito, having saved him from falling from a horse in a race at Rockingham in 1960. Wajda himself was killed 13 years later when he was caught up in Rockingham’s starting gate and fell from his mount. The Henry Wajda Memorial Stakes was a regular fixture on the Rockingham Thoroughbred stakes schedule.

Skip McDonnell was a successful real estate developer from New Hampshire, and bred and raced several regional champions until his death in 2009. His top national star was graded stakes winner Cimarron Secret as well as two New England Horse of the Year winners, Sandy Gator and Nana’s Toy.

Dooley and his partner Walter O’Hara championed parimutuel betting in Rhode Island during the Great Depression and opened Narragansett Park in 1934. After tax troubles for O’Hara, Dooley took over in 1938 and guided Narragansett through more than a decade of prosperity marked by superstar appearances by Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Whirlaway Gun Bow, Stagehand, Discovery, Bull Lea and others.

Bob Waldo worked for 44 years at the Boston Record-American and later the Boston Herald as a turf writer and partnered with fellow Hall of Famer Dave Wilson on the influential tipsheet “The Green Sheet.”

The inductees were selected by a panel of current members of the New England Turf Writers Association, and the new class will have plaques added to the permanent display in the Sports Museum at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.