Pletcher, American Pharoah lead Hall finalists list

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Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher and 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah lead a group of finalists for induction into the Racing Hall of Fame later this year.

The National Museum of Racing released the list of 10 finalists Wednesday morning. Pletcher and American Pharoah, both eligible for the first time, are joined by trainers Christophe Clement and Doug O’Neill, jockey Corey Nakatani and Blind Luck, Game On Dude, Havre de Grace, Kona Gold and Rags To Riches on the ballot.

The ballot is selected by the Hall of Fame’s 15-member Nominating Committee and inductees are chosen by a vote of the Museum’s nationwide panel. The finalists elected to the Hall of Fame by the voting panel will be announced in Wednesday, May 5. 

Blind Luck, Game On Dude, Havre de Grace, Kona Gold, Rags To Riches, Clement, O’Neill and Nakatani all appeared on last year’s ballot.

Contemporary selections of trainer Mark Casse and two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan were among the seven elected for induction last year before the Covid-19 pandemic postponed the ceremony. Those two, along with jockey Darrel McHargue, racehorse Tom Bowling and Pillars of the Turf selections Alice Chandler, Keene Daingerfield Jr. and George Widener Jr. will be inducted during this year’s ceremony tentatively scheduled for Friday, Aug. 6 at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga Springs. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many details relating to the induction ceremony are still to be determined.

Pletcher joins the Belmont Stakes-winning filly that he trained, Rags To Riches on the ballot and figures to be an overwhelming favorite for election.

Racing’s all-time leader by purses earned with more than $400.6 million since 1996, Pletcher topped North America’s earnings list 10 times from 2004 to 2015, including more than $28.1 million in 2007. He’s won the Belmont three times – with Rags to Riches in 2007, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017 – and the Kentucky Derby twice – with Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017. Pletcher has trained 11 Eclipse Award winners and won 11 Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2019 Classic with eventual champion older male Vino Rosso.

American Pharoah figured to be elected the moment he crossed the finish of the 2015 Belmont Stakes 5 1/2 lengths in front to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and first since 1978. A three-time Grade 1 winner before his Triple Crown sweep that also included victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, American Pharoah also won the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational before capping his career with a dominating victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He retired with nine wins in 11 starts and $8,650,300 in earnings.

Clement ranks 12th on racing’s all-time list of leading earners with purses of more than $139 million in a career that started in 1991. He’s won 2,094 races and traained three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti and 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist. Clement has won 248 graded stakes, including multiple editions of the Beverly D., Del Mar Oaks, Diana, Manhattan, Man o’ War, Shadwell Turf Mile and Sword Dancer. 

O’Neill ranks 13th on the all-time list with purses of more than $138 million. He’s won the Kentucky Derby twice – in 2012 with I’ll Have Another and in 2016 with Nyquist, along with five Breeders’ Cup victories. O’Neill has trained five Eclipse Award winners – I’ll Have Another, Maryfield, Nyquist, Stevie Wonderboy and Thor’s Echo.

Nakatani, who retired from riding in 2018, won 3,909 races and racked up purse earnings of $234,554,534 million in his career that started in 2018. He ranks 13th all time in career earnings and won 341 graded stakes. Nakatani won 10 Breeders’ Cup races (one of only 10 riders to do so), including four editions of the Sprint. He won three riding titles at Del Mar, two at Santa Anita Park, and one at Hollywood Park, as well as four Oak Tree meetings. His major victories included multiple editions of the Beverly D., Del Mar Oaks, Eddie Read, Hollywood Derby, Hollywood Gold Cup, Hollywood Starlet, Kentucky Oaks, Santa Anita Oaks, Santa Anita Handicap, and Santa Margarita, among others. He also won the Golden Shaheen in Dubai.

Blind Luck, a Grade 1 winner at 2, 3 and 4, won the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly in 2010. She won 12 of 22 starts with seven seconds and two thirds for $3,279,520 in earnings. Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Blind Luck raced for the ownership group that included Hollendorfer along with Mark DeDomenico LLC, John Carver and Peter Abruzzo. 

Game On Dude, the only three-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, won 16 of 34 starts and earned $6,498,893. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and owned by Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride LLC, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable LLC, and Bernie Schiappa, Game On Dude won eight Grade 1 stakes and six other graded stakes during his career. He set a stakes record winning the 2014 Big ‘Cap in 1:58.17 for the 10 furlongs. 

Havre de Grace earned Horse of the Year and champion older female honors in 2011. Trained by Tony Dutrow at 2 and 3 and by Larry Jones thereafter, Havre de Grace was campaigned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms throughout her career. She finished second to Blind Luck in the Delaware Oaks and Alabama in 2010 before earning her first graded stakes victory later that year in the Grade 2 Cotillion at Parx Racing. She won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, Woodward (defeating males) and Beldame during her Horse of the Year campaign. She retired with nine wins in 16 starts and earnings of $2,586,175.

Kona Gold, who set a 6-furlong track record winning the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in 1:07.77, earned the Eclipse Award for champion sprinter that same season. He competed in five straight editions of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint from 1998 to 2002 and won 14 of 30 starts with seven seconds for earnings of $2,293,384. Campaigned by the late Bruce Headley (who also served as his trainer), Irwin and Andrew Molasky, Michael Singh and others, Kona Gold also set a track record for 5 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita and won 10 graded stakes, including the Grade 1 San Carlos Handicap. 

Rags To Riches earned the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly in 2007 after completing a campaign that included a historic victory in the Belmont Stakes. She became the first filly in 102 years winning the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, defeating eventual Horse of the Year Curlin and Grade 1 winner Hard Spun in the process. Trained for most of her career by Pletcher and owned by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, Rags To Riches broke her maiden in early January 2007 and won four straight Grade 1 stakes after that, including the Kentucky Oaks and Belmont. She remains one of only three fillies to win the Belmont and retired with a record of 5-1-0 from seven starts and earnings of $1,342,528.   

Hall of Fame voters may select as many or as few candidates as they believe are worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame. All candidates that receive 50 percent plus one vote (majority approval) from the voting panel will be elected to the Hall of Fame. All of the finalists were required to receive support from two-thirds of the 15-member Nominating Committee to qualify for the ballot.

Ballots will be mailed to the Hall of Fame voting panel the first week in March. The results of the voting on the contemporary candidates will be announced Wednesday, May 5. That announcement will also include this year’s selections by the Museum’s Steeplechase Review Committee, which meets once every four years. 

To be eligible for the Hall of Fame, trainers must be licensed for 25 years, while jockeys must be licensed for 20 years. Thoroughbreds are required to be retired for five calendar years. All candidates must have been active within the past 25 years. The 20- and 25-year requirements for jockeys and trainers, respectively, may be waived at the discretion of the Museum’s Executive Committee. Candidates not active within the past 25 years are eligible through the Historic Review process.

Chaired by Edward L. Bowen, the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee is comprised of Bowen, Steven Crist, Tom Durkin, Bob Ehalt, Tracy Gantz, Teresa Genaro, Jane Goldstein, Steve Haskin, Jay Hovdey, Tom Law, Neil Milbert, Jay Privman, John Sparkman, Michael Veitch and Charlotte Weber.