03/09/2016 1:00PM

Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta among Hall of Fame finalists

Tom Keyser
Zenyatta is the only female horse to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, having taken America's richest Thoroughbred race in 2009.

The brilliant female racehorses Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, both of whom were named Horse of the Year, top a star-studded final ballot for this year’s National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame that also includes Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Rachel Alexandra, and the accomplished jockeys Victor Espinoza, who won the Triple Crown on American Pharoah, and Ramon Dominguez.

Ten finalists were announced Wednesday by the Hall of Fame. Also making the final cut were the horses English Channel and Kona Gold, jockeys Garrett Gomez and Craig Perret, and trainer David Whiteley.

The finalists were chosen by a 16-member nominating committee. Under the Hall of Fame’s rules, only the four who receive the most votes from the 188-member voting panel will get in, making this year’s balloting particularly difficult since the list of candidates is especially strong. Voters can choose any combination of horses, trainers, or jockeys. The four inductees will be announced April 25. The induction ceremonies are scheduled for Aug. 12 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where the Hall of Fame is located.

Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, English Channel, and Dominguez are on the ballot for the first time. Kona Gold, Espinoza, Gomez, Perret, and Whiteley have been on before.

Asmussen is back on the ballot after first making it in 2014, only to be removed that year by the Hall of Fame’s executive committee, citing investigations into Asmussen after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video, in concert with The New York Times, alleging that Asmussen mistreated horses.

Authorities in Kentucky and New York – where incidents contained in the video allegedly were taped – launched investigations. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission completed its investigation in January 2015 and brought no charges against Asmussen, saying the allegations against him “had neither a factual or scientific basis.”

But because the New York State Gaming Commission had yet to complete its investigation as of one year ago, the executive committee’s decision to keep Asmussen off the ballot in 2014 remained in effect in 2015, too. Results of the New York investigation were finally announced in November. Asmussen was fined for minor transgressions, but the most serious charges were deemed unfounded. The executive committee’s edict against Asmussen was then lifted.

Asmussen, 50, is the second-winningest trainer of all time, with 7,248 victories going into Wednesday’s races. He trained Rachel Alexandra to the Horse of the Year title in 2009 and trained Hall of Famer Curlin to consecutive Horse of the Year titles in 2007-08. Asmussen won the Eclipse Award as champion trainer in both 2008 and 2009. He has won the Kentucky Oaks twice and has won five Breeders’ Cup races. He owns the single-season record for wins with 650, set in 2009.

Rachel Alexandra in 2009 had one of the greatest seasons in American racing, winning all eight of her starts; five Grade 1 races, including against males in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward; as well the biggest springtime race for fillies, the Kentucky Oaks. She was named both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old filly. She won 13 of 19 starts during her career, with five seconds.

After her win in the Kentucky Oaks, when trained by Hal Wiggins, she was privately purchased and raced the rest of her career for Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stable and Harold McCormick while trained by Asmussen. She currently resides at Stonestreet Farm in Versailles, Ky., where she has produced two foals, including Rachel’s Valentina, the runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Zenyatta had one of the most accomplished careers in modern-day racing, maintaining her excellence for more than three racing seasons while remaining unbeaten through her first 19 races before suffering her lone loss in her career finale, when trying for a repeat victory against males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2010. Despite that loss, she was named Horse of the Year for 2010 and champion older female for the third straight year. She won 13 Grade 1 races, including the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and remains the only female to have won the Classic. Zenyatta is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and was trained by John Shirreffs. She resides at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, where she has produced two foals who have raced.

Espinoza, 43, last year rode American Pharoah to the first Triple Crown in 37 years and became only the 10th jockey to win the Kentucky Derby at least three times. The nine other riders with three or more Derby wins are all in the Hall of Fame.

Espinoza has won five of the last six Triple Crown races, having ridden California Chrome to wins in the Derby and Preakness in 2014. American Pharoah in 2015 and California Chrome in 2014 were named both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male. Espinoza has won 3,266 career races, including three Breeders’ Cup wins, most notably with American Pharoah in last year’s Classic.

Dominguez, 39, had to retire prematurely after suffering severe head injuries in a fall at Aqueduct in January 2013, ending a career that saw him win the Eclipse Award as champion jockey three straight years from 2010-12. He won 4,985 races, including three Breeders’ Cup races.

English Channel, 14, was the Eclipse Award-winning male turf horse of 2007, when he won the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He won 13 of 23 starts, including six Grade 1 races. He was trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by Jim Scatuorchio. English Channel is at stud at Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky.

Kona Gold, a gelding, had a long, productive career that included five consecutive appearances in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, a race he won in 2000, when he won an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter. He won 14 of 30 starts, including consecutive runnings of Del Mar’s Bing Crosby. He was owned by a partnership that included his trainer, Bruce Headley. Kona Gold was retired to the Kentucky Horse Park, where he died in 2009.

Gomez, 44, has not ridden since October 2013 but has never officially announced his retirement. He is a two-time Eclipse Award winner as champion jockey and has won 13 Breeders’ Cup races, most notably on Blame in the 2010 Classic, where Zenyatta suffered the lone loss of her career.

Perret, 65, retired in 2005 as one of the most accomplished jockeys of his era, with his 4,415 victories including the Derby in 1990 aboard Unbridled. He also won that year’s Eclipse Award as champion jockey, and he won more money than any apprentice rider in 1967, before the Eclipse Awards were inaugurated. He also won the 1987 Belmont on Bet Twice and won four Breeders’ Cup races.

Whiteley, 71, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Frank Whiteley, retired in 1995 following a career perhaps best known for stopping Spectacular Bid’s Triple Crown bid with Coastal in the 1979 Belmont. He trained the Eclipse Award winners Just A Game, Revidere, and Waya.