03/13/2014 12:53PM

Steven Crist: Three slam dunks on this year's Hall of Fame ballot


Ballots for this year’s nominees to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame will be sent to the electorate this week, with four new inductees to be announced April 25.

While voters may vote yes or no on each of the 10 nominees, with the four top vote-getters winning election, this year’s lineup strikes me as lopsided. While all 10 finalists, winnowed by committee from more than 50 initial nominees, have their merits and none would darken the Hall by their inclusion, three of them have such overwhelming credentials that the only tight race should be for the fourth spot.

There can’t possibly be any debate about Curlin, but it’s still a pleasure to recall his achievements. Unraced at 2, the Smart Strike colt was champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year in the outstanding 3-year-old class of 2007 and champion older male and Horse of the Year again at 4 in 2008. He won a record $10.5 million and 11 of 16 career starts, including the Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Breeders’ Cup Classic at 3 and the Dubai World Cup, Woodward, and a second Gold Cup at 4.

Retired to stud at the end of 2008, Curlin is eligible to the Hall for the first time after the five-year waiting period.

Also appearing on the ballot for the first time is his trainer, Steve Asmussen, who won’t be as overwhelming a selection but deserves to be on the numbers. His 6,703 victories through 2013 are the second most in American racing history, and his horses’ $214 million in purse earnings rank fifth. In addition to Curlin, he trained Rachel Alexandra, a surefire Hall inductee when she becomes eligible (along with Zenyatta) in 2016.

How can you not vote for the trainer with the second-most victories in the annals of the game and three straight Horse of the Year titleists? Some will not because they are still troubled by a six-month suspension for medication positives in 2006, but his achievements outweigh those incidents, and similar penalties have not kept other trainers from enshrinement.

I was surprised that Ashado was not elected last year in her first appearance on the ballot, but she shouldn’t be denied any longer. She is about the closest thing we have had to a champion at 2, 3, and 4 since Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid in the 1970s. She was the first filly to win divisional honors at 3 and 4 since Life’s Magic in 1984 and 1985, a feat since matched only by Royal Delta in 2011 and 2012.

As a 2-year-old, Ashado won the Schuylerville and Spinaway and was the nation’s second-best juvenile filly behind Halfbridled. She then returned to win Eclipse Awards as the best 3-year-old filly of 2004, when she won the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and as the champion older filly of 2005, when she took the Ogden Phipps, Go for Wand, and Beldame. In all, the daughter of Saint Ballado won 12 of 21 starts, including seven Grade 1 races, and $3.9 million.

It’s tempting to end my ballot there with Ashado, Asmussen, and Curlin, since only four nominees can be elected, and a vote for someone else theoretically could hurt their chances, but I’d like to think that those three are so clearly deserving that I can add a fourth without causing trouble.

With no disrespect to the four jockeys (Chris Antley, Garrett Gomez, Craig Perret, and Alex Solis) and the other trainer (Gary Jones) on the ballot, to me, it would come down to the remaining two horses, Kona Gold and Xtra Heat.

Sprinters have historically been slighted in Hall elections, but these two were remarkably talented and durable. Kona Gold was a top-level performer for four years and won 14 races, including the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, the year he won the Eclipse as champion sprinter.

Xtra Heat, however, has even shinier credentials: an astounding 26 victories in 35 career starts, including six performances in which she earned Beyer Speed Figures of 111 or higher (including a 117 and a 120). She was so dominant in 2001, winning nine stakes races, that she was named that season’s champion 3-year-old filly, the only time that Eclipse Award has been given to a filly who did not race beyond seven furlongs.

Okay, I’ve talked myself into it: Ashado, Asmussen, Curlin and Xtra Heat.

Lafe Bassett More than 1 year ago
Lukas, Stevens, Borel,Santana; what have you to say, or have you been advised?
AL More than 1 year ago
How do you feel about Asmusen now? There is no way he should be considered for this honor. This stuff happens in a lot of barns and the reporting may have been skewed, BUT it is clear that there ARE issues and concerns with the way Scott Blasi talks about and feels about horses. Interesting to see if there is any owner fallout from this. I would not want him near any of my horses.
illhaveanother9 More than 1 year ago
After seeing PETA's undercover video inside the Asmussen barn, I would hope that action could be taken to prevent him from entering the HOF this year. That is a black eye this sport doesn't need. A swift investigation of Asmussen, assistant Scott Blasi, and jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. needs to occur.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Can you provide a link to this? Thanks...PS just write it out: exampleat3wdotcom..
illhaveanother9 More than 1 year ago
simple google search of PETA Steve Asmussen will get u there, vid is on peta dot org and gawker dot com.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will even give Xtra Heat a break, and not count any races until the middle of her 3 year old season when she first Beyered a triple digit. That leaves the final 19 races in her career, the 19 fastest races of her career. In those 19 races she Beyered a 100 or higher 17 times. 110+: 6 115+: 3 Kona Gold had a 19 races span in the middle of his career in which he never ran lower than a 106, ran at least a 110 on 15 occasions, and a 115 or higher on 10 occasions.
ted More than 1 year ago
Alex Solis has the 10th highest earnings of all time. The 9 jocks ahead in earnings are in HOF...There are 11 jocks in HOF with LESS earnings than Alex. He seems like a slam dunk for HOF status except for the fact that he rarely raced NYRA or Kentucky. This is. Hypocrisy Of Foolishness. If its really about outstanding excellence then what about the jock that won $240,000,000 and cant get elected.
Sir Barton the First More than 1 year ago
I will put a word in for him for next year. When I was racing 20k was a big purse. Looks like I was born to soon. I need to come out retirement. Sir Barton the First Never forget, Never forget.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Curlin was a monster
russell More than 1 year ago
Let's not anoint Curlin the next superstar. Hes not. He was a very very good horse not as good as Cigar. The best horse since Affirmed and Seattle Slew is Sunday Silence who never gets his due. Racing is way overdue for a superstar. We havent had a TC winner in 35+ years. Thats a record. Keep breeding them small and short.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
I am certainly not claiming Curlin the best horse since Bid. Merely the beat horse of the 21st century, among males. Since Bid, I rate Curlin behind, in chronological order, John Henry, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Easy Goer, Cigar, and Skip Away.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
For me, Curlin is the standard for thoroughbreds of the 21st century in North America. At least among the males. And I really respect what Invasor and Tiznow accomplished, and the resume Wise Dan is building as a turf miler. And I recognize that for a handful of races Ghostzapper displayed freakish brilliance(but only twice around 2 turns). Of these horses Curlin, in my opinion, best combined elite brilliance with accomplishment, big figures with wins in big races. He placed in all 3 Triple Crown races and won the Preakness, won a BC Classic and a Dubai World Cup. He's the only horse to win a Triple Crown race, a BC Classic, and a World Cup. He is the only horse since Afirmed to be Horse of the Year as a 3 year old and then as a older horse.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
If Zenyatta was held to task about winning vs. open company, we have to do it for Xtra Heat. She was 1 for 5 when facing males. Her one win was in the gr.3 Phoenix. She was a very good 2nd to males in the 2001 BC Sprint. But she was 6th in the 2002 Sprint. She was 3rd beaten 3.5 lengths by Caller One and Echo Eddie in the 2002 Golden Shaheen, and 3rd beaten 3.75 by Delaware Township in the 01' DeFrancis. Overall, Xtra Heat won just one grade 1, and that against fellow 3 year old fillies in the Prioress. Kona Gold won 10 graded stakes and 2 grade 1s, all against males of course. Like Xtra Heat, Kona Gold ran a close 2nd in a BC Sprint. But unlike her, he also won a BC Sprint, ran 3rd in another, and ran 4th in another. But wasn't Xtra Heat like freaky fast? In 35 career starts, she ran a Beyer of 100 or higher 17 times. Certainly impressive. In just 30 career starts, Kona Gold Beyered a 100 or higher 26 times. No typo. The 4 times Kona didn't reach 100 he Beyered 88 in his debut, a 96, and twice ran a 99. So 29 of 30 times he Beyered a 96 or higher. How about Beyers of 110 or higher? Xtra Heat-6 Kona Gold-17 Beyers of 115 or higher? Xtra Heat-3 Kona Gold-10 Top Beyer? Xtra Heat-120 Kona Gold-123 The only way I could see a person concluding Xtra Heat was the better or more accomplished sprinter is if you give her concessions for being a female. On face value, Kona was the superior runner.
Sir Barton the First More than 1 year ago
None of these horses, would ever beat me in my day. Must admit that Curlin was a good one, he has my vote. Best I have seen in last ten years. Sir Barton the First.
Sir Barton the First More than 1 year ago
Never forget, Never forget
russell More than 1 year ago
I agree with Steve and I usually don't. Xtra Heat knocked heads with the best males in the game and dominated her division. Thats what its all about. Asmussen is a no brainer as is the other two.