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Three mares all merit Hall of Fame honors
By Jay Hovdey
The most heartening element of the Hall of Fame ballot soon to be mailed to the 183 journalists, historians, and dignitaries on the voting roll is the absence of the boys. They’ve had their turn.
Among those males eligible for the ballot who did not make the cut were Ghostzapper, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Saint Liam and Mineshaft, stars of the first decade of the 21st century. Their careers, brilliant but more limited in scope than their forebears, will need to be judged in light of a new racing ethic that requires less and less in accomplishments on the track before going off to stud.
Compared to that batch of lads, the three mares up for Hall of Fame election are very old school. They were consistent, durable and fast. They carried weight and stood stiff campaigns. They could have held their own in any era.
Sky Beauty ruled New York for three solid seasons in the early 1990s, winning all the right races. By the end she was up to 130 pounds in the 1994 Ruffian Handicap, and not even that stopped the train.
Open Mind, the pride of New Jersey, ran 17 times at 2 and 3 in 1988 and 1989, winning a dozen races. During one stretch of 11 stakes starts she lost only twice, by noses.
Open Mind and Sky Beauty both won the Acorn, the Mother Goose, the Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Alabama. That right there should have been good enough for a place in the Hall of Fame along time ago. The old format of voting that allowed only one female to be inducted each year worked against them, pushing them aside in favor of an ever-increasing pool of worthy candidates that included Winning Colors, Bayakoa, Paseana, Miesque, Serena’s Song, Mom’s Command, and Flawlessly.
With the current configuration of the Hall of Fame ballot it is possible to vote for more than one mare if the spirit moves. Certainly, both Open Mind and Sky Beauty will draw considerable support, for they were both pearls of great price. They are also, at least in terms of the traditional Hall of Fame profile, a dime a dozen, hitting the notes repeated constantly in the Hall of Fame mantra, doing their winning among an ordained list of races that have stood the test of time.
Then there is a mare like Safely Kept, champion sprinter of 1989 when her only loss in nine starts was by a neck to the colt Dancing Spree in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“I still think she won that race,” said Alan Goldberg, who trained Safely Kept at 3, 4 and 5. “I guess I had a bad angle.”
Safely Kept made 26 starts for Goldberg, all but one of them stakes and six of those stakes against colts. With Goldberg, she won 21 races, giving her an overall record of 24-3-2 in 31 starts upon her retirement in the fall of 1991. She is alive and well at Burleson Farms in Kentucky, pensioned now at the age of 25.
Sprinters have a tough time penetrating the deepest corners of racing’s consciousness. In some circles they are even looked upon as second-class citizens, failed experiments of a breed that treasures excellence over a route of ground. You can count the pure sprinters in the Hall of Fame and not run out of fingers. As for mares in the last half-century, there are only really two: Affectionately and Ta Wee.
Affectionately raced 52 times and won 28 between 1962 and 1965. Ta Wee, Dr. Fager’s little sister, won 15 of her 21 starts from 1968 through 1970. Both were hailed as sprint champions when mares had to beat the boys to do it.
If Safely Kept does not belong in the company of Affectionately and Ta Wee, then I’ve been reading the records upside down. A Maryland foal, Safely Kept competed at 11 different tracks. She carried weight. And she beat the boys, most notably in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, when the British colt Dayjur went airborne near the wire and the filly dug in to win by a neck.
Craig Perret had by far the most success with Safely Kept, accompanying her for 11 of her 24 wins. But her dance partner never really seemed to matter. She won with Kent Desormeaux, Rick Wilson, Matt Vigliotti, Angel Cordero, Julie Krone, Corey Black, and Gary Stevens, who was aboard for her two final starts, victories under 130 and 128 pounds in the Distaff Handicap at Pimlico and the Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Handicap at the Meadowlands.
“Sprinters didn’t run for a whole lot of money even then, and there weren‘t a lot of Grade 1 races,” Goldberg noted. “Buck, buck fifty most of the time was as good as it got, other than the Breeders’ Cup and the De Francis. Because of that it was sometimes hard to hold onto a jock.”
Not that he’s complaining. Safely Kept accumulated earnings of $2.1 million, a huge sum for a straight sprinter 20 years ago.
“It’s hard for a sprinter to be good all the time,” Goldberg added. “They don’t have much of a margin for error. A good two-turn horse can miss the break or have some bad luck and still make up the difference. Sprinters don’t have that luxury.
“But hey, I’m prejudiced,” Goldberg said. “Of course I think she belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
So go ahead, Hall of Fame voters, and satisfy the traditions of the game with votes for the deserving Sky Beauty and Open Mind. But the ballot is wide open, and excellence in the game is represented by more than just 1 1/8 miles at age 3. They offer sprint races for a reason, as great entertainment in a quick-twitch culture, so why not honor the best at her job for the past 40 years?
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