Make a little room, Jonathan Sheppard, Mikey Smithwick, Burley Cocks, Pete Bostwick, Janet Elliot and the others, Jack Fisher needs a seat. Steeplechase trainer Jack Fisher will join the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame this summer as part of the class of 2021 along with trainer Todd Pletcher and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Fisher will be the 22nd steeplechase horsemen in the Hall – joining those trainers listed above and others such as Tom Voss, Rigan McKinney, Hollie Hughes, Mickey Walsh plus jockeys Joe Aitcheson, Paddy Smithwick, Dooley Adams and Jerry Fishback. The steeplechase inductees are chosen by the Hall's Steeplechase Review Committee, which meets every four years. Fisher, Pletcher and American Pharoah will be enshrined along with the 2020 inductees on Friday, Aug. 6, at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. at 10:30 a.m. The ceremony will be broadcast live on the Museum website with an announcement regarding public attendance at the ceremony to come.
Fisher, 57 and a native of Unionville, Pa., is the son of retired trainer and amateur steeplechase jockey Dr. John R.S. Fisher so grew up in racing. The younger Fisher won his first race as a trainer in 1988 at Middleburg, Va., with Call Louis and has been a consistently dominant force atop the National Steeplechase Association standings for the past 20 years. Fisher topped all steeplechase trainers in wins for the first time in 2003 and has led the list an additional 12 times since. In 2004, he led the earnings list for the first of eight times to date. Now based at Locust Hill Farm in Butler, Md., Fisher has ranked in the top five in both NSA wins and earnings each of the past 20 years.
Fisher is the only trainer in steeplechase history to surpass $1 million in purse earnings in a year, something he has accomplished five times. He trained two-time Eclipse Award winner and Hall of Fame member Good Night Shirt, one of only three horses to earn $1 million in American steeplechase racing (along with Hall of Famers Lonesome Glory and McDynamo). Good Night Shirt won 10 graded stakes, including eight Grade 1 events, and twice set the single-season NSA earnings record. Fisher also trained Eclipse Award winners Scorpiancer (2017) and Moscato (2020). In addition to those three overall champions, Fisher has trained 18 horses that have won NSA divisional championships (timber, novice hurdler, filly/mare, 3-year-old hurdler). Through May 7, Fisher has won 593 career steeplechase races and ranks second all time in purse earnings with more than $17.8 million (behind only Sheppard).
Fisher's horses have won five editions of the Grade 1 Iroquois, four runnings of the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwicks at Saratoga, three runnings of the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park and two each of the Grade 1 Colonial Cup and American Grand National. After Snap Decision's win Saturday, Fisher horses have won the historic Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Handicap six times. With timber champion Saluter, Fisher won six consecutive editions of the Virginia Gold Cup and four runnings of the Virginia Hunt Cup. Fisher has won the Virginia Gold Cup 12 times as a trainer and nine times as a rider — both records. Fisher rode Saluter to each of his Gold Cup victories. According to Equibase, Fisher won 57 races as a jockey with earnings of $953,243, including $394,189 as Saluter’s pilot.
“I’ve always loved being around horses. It’s been my life,” Fisher said via museum press release. “I was terrible in school and didn’t want to be there. I loved riding and I love training. I learned a lot from my father (trainer John Fisher) and from guys like (Hall of Fame trainers) Mikey Smithwick and Tommy Voss. They were examples of the work it takes to be successful and also how they built a good team. You can’t do it alone.
“I’ll never forget horses like Call Louis and Woody Boy Would and Saluter that made my career at the beginning. They got the ball rolling for me. Saluter was really the one. My license plate says Saluter on it. He meant everything. I’ve had some wonderful and patient owners and great talent in the barn. To have horses like Good Night Shirt, Scorpiancer, Moscato, and Snap Decision has been incredible beyond words. I’m pretty darn lucky.”
Late Wednesday morning, Fisher again thought of the early parts of his career and the help along the way – again crediting timber horse Call Louis (who won his first seven timber starts for Fisher in 1989 and 1990) and hurdler Woody Boy Would (who won nine races for Fisher in the early 1990s) – for helping push the training career.
"I'm going to say it was Call Louis and Woody Boy Would, those two got my career started and I think Mr. (Alex) Campbell and Mr. (Fitz) Dixon and some other owners of my dad's who gave me horses at the beginning were a big part of it too," Fisher said of early influential horses and people. "Once you start to get it rolling, people start to send you better horses. It requires a bit of luck."
Fisher finished second behind Sheppard in the NSA's pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but is off to a quick start in 2021 and doesn't see himself changing what he does much. He won the Temple Gwathmey with Snap Decision, who has won eight consecutive races, Saturday and has won both hurdle stakes on the 2021 schedule thus far.
"Not at all," Fisher replied when asked if the Hall of Fame honor changes his life. "I think people train horses, especially steeplechase horses, not for the money but for the love of the sport and the love of the horse. That’s different than flat racing a little bit, because you can do it for the money. Training the horses is it for me. I was just as proud of Gibralfaro (who finished second in a cross-country race Saturday) as I was Snap Decision. He learned, it amazed me, as the race went on. Footpad (fourth in the Gwathmey, his American debut) too. He learned as he went along, got jumping better and better and better."