05/30/2006 12:00AM

Old-timer trio the only inductees

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Cougar II, the male turf champion in 1972, won 20 of 50 lifetime starts.

Carl Hanford, who trained Kelso to an unprecedented five straight Horse of the Year titles in the 1960's, was announced on Tuesday by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame as one of this year's inductees, joining retired jockey Bill Boland and the horse Cougar II, a stakes star of the early 1970's.

They will be inducted on Aug. 7 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

All three were chosen by a 12-person historic review committee that meets every other year.

The startling news, however, was that not one of the 12 contemporary nominees - 3 jockeys, 3 trainers, and 6 horses - sent to Hall of Fame voters was selected to the Hall of Fame. That included some particularly strong categories, such as female horse, whose three finalists were Inside Information, Silverbulletday, and Sky Beauty. The male horse finalists were Best Pal, Manila, and Silver Charm. The jockeys were Eddie Maple, Craig Perret, and Alex Solis, and the trainers were Mel Stute, John Veitch, and Bob Wheeler.

A total of 186 voters were sent ballots with those 12 names, and 175 cast ballots. According to the Hall of Fame's rules, only one candidate from each category could have gained entry into the Hall, and only if that person or horse received 75 percent of the vote. Voters were allowed to choose up to three in each category, but if one candidate received 90 percent of the vote, and another 89, only the one with the highest total would have gone in, according to the Hall's rules.

Those are rules that were tweaked slightly from last year, when the same qualifications were first implemented, but voters had five finalists to select from in each category. Last year, of the 12 finalists, only trainer Nick Zito got in. So, in the past two years, only one of eight contemporary categories has produced an inductee. Before last year, the highest vote getter in each category got in, regardless of percentage.

The Hall of Fame does not release individual vote totals.

Ed Bowen, the Hall of Fame's committee chairman, said on Tuesday that the Hall would review its policies to see if voters indeed felt that no one qualified this year, or if the system is flawed.

"The results are perplexing," Bowen said.

Bowen theorized that some voters might have only voted for one candidate in each category so as to only promote that candidate. Bowen said that 28 voters selected just one candidate in each category. He said he wants to find out if that was intended, or if those voters - and others - might have not fully grasped the rules and thought they could only vote for one candidate per category.

"We will discuss this with the executive committee of the museum," said Bowen, who said he thought changes would be made by next year. "That's just one man's opinion, but I hope we make changes for next year."

The Hall's executive committee sets the rules. The nominating committee follows the rules and selects the finalists that are sent to voters.

Boland, 72, joked that it should be hard to get in. "Let them get old and gray like me," he said.

The three winners were among 51 originally considered by the historic review committee. That committee selected one finalist in each category. To get in, each finalist had to get "yes" votes from at least nine of the 12 committee members. This year, all three finalists got in.

Boland joined Hanford and Mary Jones Bradley, the owner of Cougar II, on a teleconference Tuesday. All three were understandably elated at the honor.

Asked to describe Kelso in one word, Hanford, 90, replied, "Great."

Kelso certainly was great. The popular gelding won 39 of 63 starts, including five straight runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which then was run at the demanding distance of two miles.

"I never had a horse like Kelso," Hanford said.

Hanford began his career as a jockey, and was a racing official after he retired from training.

Boland won the 1950 Kentucky Derby on Middleground as a 16-year-old apprentice rider. The previous day, he won the Kentucky Oaks on Ari's Mona. Boland beat Kelso three times astride Beau Purple. He won 1,980 races from 16,639 mounts before becoming a trainer and then a racing official.

Cougar II, nicknamed "The Big Cat" by Santa Anita announcer Joe Hernandez, won 20 times in 50 starts, and was 15 for 38 after being imported from his native Chile. He was the male turf champion in 1972, when he won the Century Handicap and Oak Tree Invitational. He won the 1973 Santa Anita Handicap after finishing second the previous year. He was trained by Charlie Whittingham.

"Charlie said that he was equally good on dirt or turf," Bradley said. "He's the best horse I ever had or ever will have."