04/25/2016 12:36PM

Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra top 2016 Hall of Fame class

Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta in 2009 became the only female to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. She was elected to the Hall of Fame, along with Rachel Alexandra, trainer Steve Asmussen, and jockey Ramon Dominguez.

Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta never met on the racetrack, but their Hall of Fame plaques will be alongside one another on Aug. 12, when those two outstanding female racehorses as well as jockey Ramon Dominguez and trainer Steve Asmussen are inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, both of whom were named Horse of the Year during their careers, along with Dominguez and Asmussen – who prepared Rachel Alexandra for her celebrated victories over males in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward in 2009 – were announced on Monday as the 2016 induction class to the Hall of Fame.

Not making the cut was jockey Victor Espinoza, who last year won the Triple Crown aboard American Pharoah and is a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby. There are 10 jockeys who have won the Derby three times. The other nine are in the Hall of Fame.

Under the Hall of Fame’s rules, only the top four receiving votes from this year’s 10 finalists get in. That made this year’s ballot particularly challenging for the 188-member voting panel since the list of candidates was particularly strong. There were bound to be deserving candidates who didn’t finish in the top four.

Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Dominguez, and Asmussen outpolled six other finalists – Espinoza, fellow jockeys Garrett Gomez and Craig Perret, the male horses English Channel and Kona Gold, and trainer David Whiteley.

Voters were allowed to choose any combination of horses, jockeys, or trainers. That policy was put in place a few years ago, changing a prior policy in which one female horse, one male horse, one jockey, and one trainer were chosen each year. Had that still been in effect, voters would have had to choose between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Instead, both go in as first-ballot selections.

In addition to Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, Dominguez was on the ballot for the first time.

Asmussen was back on the ballot after first making it in 2014, only to be removed that year by the Hall of Fame’s executive committee, which cited 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 “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.

“It’s a very humbling honor to be shared with family and friends, all the sacrifices they’ve made,” Asmussen said from Louisville, Ky., where earlier Monday morning he sent out his Kentucky Derby and Oaks prospects for workouts at Churchill Downs. “It’s unique in that you’re in the middle of your career. The Hall of Fame seems like something reflective, but in 11 or 12 days, we’re looking forward to the Oaks and Derby, great opportunities.”

Asmussen, 50, is the second-winningest trainer of all time, with 7,287 victories through Sunday. He trained Rachel Alexandra to the title of Horse of the Year 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 in 2009.

Rachel Alexandra in 2009 had one of the greatest seasons in American racing, winning all eight 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 – outpolling Zenyatta, who won that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic – 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 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 and one of the leading contenders for this year’s Kentucky Oaks.

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 the first 19 races of her career 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 that year was named 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.

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 during his career, including three Breeders’ Cup races, but never won a Triple Crown race.

Espinoza, 43, last year rode American Pharoah to the first Triple Crown in 37 years. 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, who has seven Triple Crown race victories, has won 3,270 races, including three Breeders’ Cup wins, most notably with American Pharoah in last year’s Classic. He has never won an Eclipse Award.