Elliot, Ben Nevis join racing’s Hall of Fame

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"Image"Steeplechase trainer Janet Elliot and two-time Maryland Hunt Cup winner Ben Nevis II are among the 2009 class to be inducted into Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame this summer in Saratoga Springs.

The join flat inductees trainer Bob Baffert, jockey Eddie Maple and horses Silverbulletday and Tiznow. The Class of 2009 will be inducted on Friday, August 14 in Saratoga Springs in a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion.

Baffert, Maple, Silverbulletday and Tiznow were elected in the contemporary categories by the 181 members of the Hall of Fame’s voting panel.

Elliot, the second woman elected and the Hall of Fame’s first female trainer, and Ben Nevis II, winner of the English Grand National in 1980, were selected for induction by the Steeplechase Committee. In 2000, jockey Julie Krone was the first woman elected to the Hall of Fame.

Baffert, 56, and the late Robert Wheeler were the finalists in the contemporary trainers category. Maple, 60, finished ahead of Randy Romero and Alex Solis in the contemporary jockeys voting. It was Maple’s seventh time on the ballot.

Tiznow, the only two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, received more votes than Best Pal and Point Given in the contemporary male division. Silverbulletday finished ahead of Open Mind and Sky Beauty in the contemporary female category.

A native of Cobh in County Cork, Ireland, Elliot moved to the United States in 1968 to work for Mrs. Elizabeth Bird. After also working for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard for nearly a decade, she opened her own public stable in 1979. She won the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase in 1986 with Census, and trained three champions – Corregio in 1996 and Flat Top in 1998 and 2002.

In 1991, Elliot led the steeplechase standings in wins and earnings, ending Sheppard’s 18-year reign as the leading trainer. She is the first woman to win a national training title. She ranks third in career earnings by a steeplechase trainer.

Elliot, 60, was stunned by the news of her election.

“I’ve been elected to the Hall of Fame? Not just nominated?” she said. “Oh, my God. How exciting. It’s an honor I never expected. I don’t know what to say.”

After a couple of seconds of reflection, Elliot found more words to describe her feelings.

“That’s extremely exciting,” she said.  “I feel incredibly honored. Wow.”

Baffert has trained the winners of eight Triple Crown races, seven Breeders’ Cup races and has handled 10 champions, including Mike Pegram’s Silverbulletday. He was elected in the first year that his name appeared on the ballot. He had been eligible in 2007 and 2008, but had not received enough votes in the nominating committee process to become a finalist and appear on the ballot.

After rising to prominence as a Quarter Horse trainer, Baffert began a transition to Thoroughbred racing at the end of the 1970s. He saddled his first Thoroughbred winner, Flipper Star, at Rillito Park in Tucson, Arizona on January 28, 1979. Flipper Star’s victory came in a four-furlong race for 3-year-olds that carried a purse of $600. The winner’s share was $330.

In the early 1990s, Baffert completed the move to Thoroughbred racing and developed a distinguished record. He was the leading money-winner trainer three consecutive years (1998-2000) and through 2008 ranks fifth all-time among trainers in earnings at $134,822,227. He has won the Kentucky Derby three times, the Preakness four times and the Belmont Stakes once.

Baffert wasn’t sure how to react when told that he has been elected.

“That is awesome. That is really awesome,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. I never expected this when I got in the business. I’m sort of at a loss for words.”

Baffert was quickly back in stride.

“It’s an honor,” he said. “It’s a very humbling feeling right now. I’ve always thought about it but I really wasn’t mentally prepared for it when I heard about being on the ballot this year. I feel honored. It’s a great honor to be in the Hall of Fame. I guess I’ve got to call my mother up and tell her. She’s going to be happy. She says she’s coming.”

Baffert and Silverbulletday are the first trainer-horse combination to be inducted in the same year since Neil Drysdale and A.P. Indy entered the Hall of Fame together in 2000.

“I’m excited about Silverbulletday,” Baffert said. “She was a great mare and it will be great having Mike Pegram there. Mike Pegram and Hal Earnhardt are the ones who motivated me to get in the Thoroughbred business. Mike Pegram put me on scholarship to get into the business and it looks like it paid off well. It’s certainly fitting that I get in with one of Mike’s horses.”

Maple, 60, retired in 1998 with a resume of 4,398 wins in a 34-year career.  He won the Belmont Stakes on Temperence Hill and Crème Fraiche, three runnings of the Metropolitan Handicap, two Travers and two Suburban Handicaps. Maple rode Arbees Boy, Foolish Pleasure and Quiet Little Table to victories over Forego and he rode Secretariat to victory in the Canadian International, the colt’s final start. He rode regularly for Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens, who put him on such top horses as Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo, Devil’s Bag, Swale and Forty Niner.

“I’m tickled to death,” Maple said when told he had been elected. “It’s an honor. There’s nothing but great riders, great horses, great trainers in the Hall of Fame. It’s just a great honor. I enjoyed riding all those years and to have something like this come back is really, really thrilling.”

After he retired, Maple and his wife ran a retail home and garden store on Long Island, N.Y. Since 2005 he has been the general manager at the Rose Hill Plantation Equestrian Boarding and Teaching Center in Bluffton, South Carolina.

Silverbulletday, a daughter of Silver Deputy, was foaled in 1996. She won 15 of 23 career starts, earned $3,093,207 and was the champion 2-year-old filly of 1998 and the champion 3-year-old filly of 1999.

“She’s the best racehorse I’ve ever owned and I’ve been fortunate to have a few of them,” Pegram said. “She was in a class by herself.”

From an 11-length victory in her debut she graduated to stakes company and won another five 2-year-old races, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies over Excellent Meeting. She extended her winning streak to eight races with five more victories as a 3-year-old. Her first defeat that season was against males in the Belmont Stakes.
            
Pegram said he could not select a favorite Silverbulletday victory.
           
“There were so many,” he said. “The Kentucky Oaks. The Alabama. The Alcibiades. The Ashland. She was a machine there for a while. She made it all look easy. You had to pinch yourself every so often.”

Pegram still owns Silverbulletday. She is in foal to Elusive Quality.

Tiznow was bred in California by the late Cecilia Straub-Rubens, who raced the son of Cee’s Tizzy with co-owner Michael Cooper. During two seasons of competition at ages 3 and 4 with trainer Jay Robbins, Tiznow won eight of 15 starts and amassed purse earnings of $6,427,830. He was the 3-year-old male champion and Horse of the Year in 2000 and the older male champion in 2001.

“Incredible. Great. Great. Great,” said Pamela Ziebarth, daughter of Straub-Rubens, when she was told of Tiznow’s election.

Tiznow, now one of the top sires in the United States, stands at stud at WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky.

“He’s an impressive stallion and he was so impressive on the track,” Ziebarth said. “I just couldn’t be more happy with what we have. He’s just made our racing life so incredible.”

During the summer of 2000, Tiznow emerged as a top-level stakes runner with second-place finishes in the Swaps Stakes and the Pacific Classic. He won the Super Derby and the Goodwood Handicap before beating the European star Giant’s Causeway by a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. Cecilia Straub-Rubens died a few days after the first Breeders’ Cup victory.

At 4, Tiznow won the Santa Anita Handicap and the San Fernando Stakes. He completed his career with a thrilling victory by a nose in the Classic over another European standout, Sakhee, winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

 “My dad got involved in racing in the early ’60s and never really had the opportunity to see what came of it,” Ziebarth said. “My mom did have the opportunity with Tiznow and he made it for her. I couldn’t be more happy about that.”
 
Ben Nevis II, a 1969 foal, was bred in Great Britain and was racing there when he was purchased and brought to the United States by the late Redmond Stewart, Jr. of Maryland. Stewart turned the unruly gelding over to his daughter Ann and her husband Charles Fenwick Jr. With Fenwick training and riding, Ben Nevis II found success and won the 1977 and 1978 runnings of the Maryland Hunt Club, a demanding event over four miles and 22 fences.

In 1979, Ben Nevis II was sent to England to compete in the Grand National, the world’s most prestigious steeplechase event. He fell during the race. Ben Nevis II was aimed toward the 1980 Grand National at Aintree, where he became just the third U.S.-based horse to finish first. He joins the first two American winners, Battleship and Jay Trump, in the Hall of Fame.

“Wonderful. That’s great news,” Ann Stewart said. “That’s so exciting.”

Stewart said the horse was a handful.

“His record tells you how successful he was, but it was really weird. My dad got him because he had friends. When we got him, you couldn’t even put tack on him. He appeared to be crazy. I don’t know if I should say that, but it’s the truth. Because Dad wouldn’t give up on him, my husband got him in a race and he just took off and won easily every race he was in. Nobody could come close. He was a very big, very talented horse.”

Edward L. Bowen is the chairman of the Museum’s Hall of Fame committees. The 16-member Nominating Committee considered more than 80 candidates for the contemporary categories before selecting 11 finalists. To qualify for the ballot, candidates were required to receive at least a majority of votes from the committee. The winners received the most votes from the 181 voters in the United States and Canada. A total of 175 votes, 96.6 percent, were returned.

Members of the nominating committee are: Bowen, president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, freelance writer and a trustee of the Museum; Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable and a Museum trustee; Steve Crist, publisher and columnist, Daily Racing Form; Jane Goldstein, turf writer and the retired Santa Anita Park publicist; Russ Harris, handicapper and turf writer, New York Daily News; Jay Hovdey, executive columnist, Daily Racing Form; Dan Liebman, editor-in-chief, The Blood-Horse; Neil Milbert, formerly a turf writer at the Chicago Tribune now a freelance writer; Leverett Miller, owner-breeder and Museum trustee; William Nack, freelance turf writer and author; Jay Privman, national correspondent, Daily Racing Form, and television analyst of racing; Jennie Rees, turf writer and columnist, The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky;  John Sparkman,  bloodstock/sales editor, Thoroughbred Times; Clark Spencer, turf writer, Miami Herald; Michael Veitch, turf  writer and columnist, The Saratogian and Daily Racing Form; John T. von Stade, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
 
Members of the Steeplechase Committee are: George Bernet, retired turf writer and editor at Daily Racing Form; Bowen; Austin Brown, a retired racetrack executive and a director of the National Steeplechase Association; Charlsie Cantey, a retired trainer and television commentator; Joe Clancy, co-editor and co-publisher of the Steeplechase Times; Don Clippinger, editorial director of The Thoroughbred Times; Charles Colgan, former executive vice president of the National Steeplechase Association; Leonard Hale, longtime racing executive now the executive director of the Charles Town HBPA; William Pape, longtime owner-breeder and former president of the National Steeplechase Association; Stanley Petter, bloodstock agent and a Museum trustee; von Stade; Peter Winants, author, photographer, and steeplechase historian.

The induction ceremony is free and open to the public. It was moved to Friday, August 14 to coincide with the Museum Ball and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.