Race of the Week 2017

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A New York State of Racing

A Most Memorable Experience: the 2012 Hall of Fame Inductions

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 time.”
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.
Jerry Bailey – The best jockey that I have seen ride.
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 riding.
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?
Nick Zito – Big favorite in New York.
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 row.
Edgar Prado – He was such a hero at the end of Barbaro’s career.
Bill Mott – He turned Cigar into one of the greats.
Chris McCarron – He won five Breeders’ Cup Classics.
D. Wayne Lukas – He has trained an amazing 24 champions!
Ron Turcotte – A tireless ambassador for racing, more about him at the end of this piece.
Allen Jerkens – 83 years-old and he is still winning grade one stakes in 2012.
Jose Santos – He is forever linked with Funny Cide.
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 Frankel.
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 being.”
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 Secretariat.


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Older Comments about A Most Memorable Experience: the 2012 Hall of Fame Inductions...

the real lifesize ORIGINAL was one of the most alive beings I have ever witnessed.
I suppose the Secretariat statue is a bit smaller than the life size one of Seabiscuit. Inside the museum there is a good bronze of Man o’ War. A historian of racing would definitely enjoy themselves with all the memorabilia.
I was impressed at the smaller Secretariat sculpture (exactly like the one in the paddock at Belmont) that is right outside the main hall in a small courtyard.
travel_vic is right about the incredible plaques of superstar horses lining the walls of the theater. It’s easy to spend hours reading the bios. The life size statues of Secretariat and Seabiscuit. The dozens of huge sterling silver cups from races of old. George Woolf’s silks, Red Pollard’s crop and even the leather leg brace he used to win the Santa Anita Handicap on Seabiscuit. As the commercial used to say, ”Try it, you’ll like it!”
I just got back from Saratoga and got to see Ghostzappers plaque hanging the the Hall of Fame. It reminded me of a blog written by someone, maybe from the Racing Form or ESPN, about how he was not going to vote for Ghostzapper because he raced so few times. While I personally think Ghostzapper belongs in the Hall, he made a pretty good point. Many of the top horses today will only have half or less of the starts of the great Hall of Fame horses from the past.
pam.harris.9843--When I wear my Secretariat t-shirts I almost invariably have people comment about how they remember 1973.
I could not agree more, "After all, I am one of the many, who love racing because of him and Secretariat."
I could not agree more, "After all, I am one of the many, who love racing because of him and Secretariat."
thier theater there is something to behold as all the inductees line the walls. Even with the breakdown King`s name there I would go back.
As each year passes, the more Ghostzappers season in 2004 screams out "Best of the 21st Century"
Canadian one was Thursday with Russell Baze being inducted
AnnaK, yes the HOF ceremony is open to the public. I had to stand in the back of the balcony because I did not arrive early to stake out a seat.
Can anyone go? Off the street, free, just walk in?
Johnny V....Sword & Bama.......
Sounds like a fantastic experience ... good for you, Matt. I need to do one of these sooner than later.

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Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.


Matt’s articles and tweets frequently appear in the America’s Best Racing weekly Notebook. In 2012 he became a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.


The best way to get to know Matt is to check out some of his favorite articles from the past couple years.

• Preakness Interview with Trainer Todd Pletcher

• Kentucky Derby 2016 Handicapping Tips from A to Z


• Edison: the Travels of a Million Dollar Colt 

• A Kentucky Derby Field with Just 14 Horses

• What is the Best Kentucky Derby Running Style?



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