California Chrome tops Hall of Fame class

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Two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome tops group of eight elected to Racing Hall of Fame for 2023. Benoit Photo.

Two-time Horse of the Year and divisional champion and dual classic winner California Chrome headlines a class of eight elected into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame for 2023.

California Chrome is one of three new Hall of Famers elected in their first year of eligibility, along with champions Songbird and Arrogate. That trio joins jockeys Corey Nakatani and Fernando Toro and Pillars of the Turf selections John W. Hanes II, Leonard W. Jerome and Stella F. Thayer.

The 2023 Hall of Fame class will be inducted at 10:30 a.m. Friday, August 4 at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga Springs. The ceremony will be broadcast live on the Museum website at www.racingmuseum.org. The event is open to the public and free to attend.

California Chrome, the winner of 16 of 27 starts and $14,752,650, was voted Horse of the Year in 2014 and 2016 and earned Eclipse Awards as champion 3-year-old male in 2014 and champion older male in 2016.

Bred in California by Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, the son of Lucky Pulpit gained international attention with his victories in the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes for trainer Art Sherman. He finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes – beaten less than 2 lengths – in his attempt to sweep the Triple Crown but added seven additional stakes victories over the next two seasons. California Chrome won 14 stakes overall and retired as the sport’s all-time leading earner in North America in January 2017.

Arrogate, who surpassed California Chrome as the leading earner with at least one start in North America, won seven of 11 starts with a bankroll of $17,422,600. Juddmonte’s son of Unbridled’s Song strung together four Grade 1 victories in the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup in 2016 and 2017.

Bred by Clearsky Farms, Arrogate was named champion 3-year-old male in 2016. He broke Saratoga Race Course’s 37-year-old stakes and track record in the 1 1/4-mile Travers with his 13 ½-length victory in 1:59.36. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Arrogate also set the Gulfstream Park track record for 9 furlongs in 1:46.83.

Rick Porter’s Songbird put together back-to-back championship seasons in 2015 and 2016 and won 13 of 15 starts for $4,692,000 in earnings. Bred by John Antonelli and trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Songbird won nine Grade 1s and 12 stakes overall. She was champion 2-year-old filly in 2015 and champion 3-year-old filly in 2016.

Nakatani was elected after his fifth appearance on the ballot. The 52-year-old native of Covina, California won 3,909 races with purse earnings of more than $234.5 million during his career from 1988 through 2018. He won 341 graded stakes, including 10 Breeders’ Cup races, and ranks 14th in all-time career earnings. Nakatani won 10 riding titles on the Southern California circuit.

Toro, 82, was elected by the Hall of Fame’s Historic Review Committee. A native of Santiago, Chile, he won 3,555 races with purse earnings of more than $56.2 million during his North American career from 1966 through 1990. Based in Southern California, Toro won 80 graded stakes in North America. At the time of his retirement, he ranked in the top 10 in stakes wins at Del Mar (No. 6), Hollywood Park (No. 8), and Santa Anita (tied at No. 8).

Thayer, 82, purchased Tampa Bay Downs with her brother, Howell Ferguson, in 1986 and continues to serve as the track’s president. Thayer was elected the ninth president of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2005. The first woman to hold the position in the institution’s history, Thayer served as Museum president until 2014. She has been a Museum trustee since 1994.

Hanes, who died in 1987, played a key role in the revitalization of New York racing in the 1950s. He was elected a steward of The Jockey Club in 1953 and tasked by the organization to chair a special committee to improve New York’s tracks and quality of racing. Along with committee members Christopher T. Chenery and Harry F. Guggenheim, Hanes secured $109 million to revitalize Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga. He also helped obtain legislation to establish the management corporation that eventually became the New York Racing Association. Hanes served as the organization’s president from 1954 through 1960 before transitioning to the role of NYRA chairman. He remained a NYRA trustee until 1973.

Jerome, known as the “King of Wall Street” before his passing in 1891, was a driving force in the creation of three major racetracks in the New York City area – Jerome Park, Sheepshead Bay Race Track and Morris Park. He also helped establish the American Jockey Club (not affiliated with the modern Jockey Club) and served as the first vice president of Saratoga Race Course upon its opening in 1864. Jerome also partnered with William Travers, Saratoga’s first president, in what became a powerful financial firm on Wall Street.