I sat in the press box
trying to decide if I should attend the National Racing Hall of Fame induction
ceremony that was due to start at 10:30am. One of the other writers said that I
should go, at least to see when they introduce the past Hall of Fame members
who were there to attend this year’s event. I took his advice and I am so glad
that I did. What an amazing
experience to see so many of racing’s greatest stars. The speeches and
introductions did not leave a dry eye in the house.
NYRA track announcer, Tom
Durkin, was the master of ceremonies and he began by explaining the
requirements for induction into the Hall of Fame. Durkin said, “That induction
is not based on a singular feat or for any great year…it is a paradigm of
excellence.” The National Racing
Museum states on their website that, “The mission of the Official National Thoroughbred
Racing Hall of Fame is to honor the achievements of those horses, jockeys, and
trainers whose records and reputations have withstood the difficult test of
The ceremony was a thrill
for a racing fan like me. I lost count of the number of times that I
was choked up during the speeches and introductions. At least nobody was looking at me as I got emotional, which
certainly wasn’t the case for the inductees who stood on the stage in front of
the standing room only crowd at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion.
Here is a list of the past
Hall of Fame members that attended the 2012 inductions, along with a brief fact or
my reaction after they were introduced. For more detailed information about any of the HOF’ers, click
on the Horse Racing Nation links or go to the Racing Museum website.
Carl Nafzger – The great scene when Nafzger described to 92 year-old owner, Mrs.
Frances A. Genter, that Unbridled was about to win the Derby.
Kent Desormeaux – I hope he can overcome his current problems and get back to great
Randy Romero – Rode two of the greatest fillies in Go For Wand and Personal Ensign.
Shug McGaughey – Is there a better job than training for the Phipps Stable?
Eddie Maple – The great Woody Stephen’s regular rider and he rode Secretariat in
his last race.
Janet Elliot – The best female steeplechase trainer and she made us stop betting
on only Jonathan Sheppard.
Angel Cordero – “The King of Saratoga” won 11 Spa titles in a
Edgar Prado – He was such a hero at the end of Barbaro’s career.
Bill Mott –
He turned Cigar into one of the greats.
Ron Turcotte – A tireless ambassador for racing, more about him at the end of this
Allen Jerkens – 83 years-old and he is still winning grade one stakes in 2012.
The new Hall of Fame
members include two Historic Inductees. Planet was known as The Great Red Fox. He ran 31 times during the 1850’s winning
27 of them. Anthony Hamilton was one
of the greatest African-American jockeys. He raced in the 1890’s and won at a
34% clip on the New York circuit.
The four Contemporary
Inductees in 2012 are: Robert Wheeler, Ghostzapper, Roger Attfield, and John
Velazquez. Robert Wheeler, who died in 1992, was based in California, where he
won 1336 races. The former cowboy and ex-rodeo rider came to prominence after
being selected to be the trainer for CV Whitney. Silver Spoon and Track Robbery
were his most famous horses.
Ghostzapper is a home-bred of the Stronach family. Ghostzapper received a BSF of
128 in the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park, which is the highest non-sprint
speed figure ever recorded. Mrs. Stronach represented the family at the
ceremony and she spoke very emotionally about how much they miss trainer Bobby
Roger Attfield is by far the greatest trainer in Canada. The former steeplechase
rider in England has won 1,731 races. He took time at the beginning of his
speech to talk rather frankly about some of the issues in racing today. “I am kind of sad
about what is going in racing with all of the recent bad publicity. We need to
clean things up and get ride of the rubbish.”
Jockey John Velazquez was very emotional as he
thanked many people and talked about how he became a rider. He was choked up 5
or 6 times at the beginning of his speech. His wife, Leona, came up on the
stage and stood by his side and he was then able to finish talking. Trainer Todd
Pletcher introduced Velazquez and said, “Johnny he has raised the bar for all
jockeys. He is a terrific role model, a caring father, and a super human
When Velazquez first came
to the US he spoke almost no English and he lived with Angel Cordero’s family. Johnny
V. explained how he first learned to speak some English, “by watching the movie
The Little Mermaid over and over
again with Cordero’s two year-old daughter.”
The entire ceremony was
such a great reminder of why we all love horse racing, but I felt the most
emotional when I exited the building and I saw Ron Turcotte surrounded by
racing fans. Many of them had
items for him to autograph, which he did happily. I waited my turn and I said
that I just wanted to shake hands, and I thanked him for doing so much for
racing. After all, I am one of the many, who love racing because of him and