The 2013 Hall of Fame ballot showed up in the mailbox today and got me thinking.
The finalists voters will choose from, ten of them, were announced a few weeks ago and consist of five jockeys (four active), a retired trainer, three male racehorses and one female racehorse.
Coming up with this list can’t be easy. It falls to a group of 16 individuals of varying backgrounds and experience in the racing industry, most of them Turf writers who dissect and analyze the credentials of the humans and horses nominated or suggested by a larger group of mostly Turf writers but also the general public. (Full disclosure: I have participated in Hall of Fame voting for the better part of ten years as a member of the larger group)
The human finalists seem like a logical enough group, jockeys with 21,000-plus wins combined, including three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel and multiple Eclipse Award winner Garrett Gomez. Trainer Gary Jones retired in 1996 and appears as a finalist yet again, seemingly the token West Coast representative, although some might argue Gomez and the late Chris Antley might fall into that category as well.
The horses are kind of a mixed bag, with the lightly raced Horse of the Year Invasor looking to be inducted the year after fellow lightly raced Horse of the Year Ghostzapper went in.
Two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure is about as good a non-champion finalist can be, and he’s joined by champions Ashado and Housebuster on the ballot.
Glancing at the past performances included and two names jump off the page looking at Housebuster, champion sprinter of 1990 and 1991.
Names of two horses who did their best running at distances significantly longer than seven furlongs. Names of two horses who beat Housebuster fairly easily at that distance. Names of two horses who are not on this ballot.
The names are Unbridled and Black Tie Affair.
Certainly one race doesn’t make a Hall of Fame resume and perhaps they don’t deserve induction, but the repeated omission of Unbridled and Black Tie Affair doesn’t sit well in this corner. And it shouldn’t for anyone with any
Oh sure there’s plenty of holes in my argument, the main one being one I would use first.
They lost more than they won.
Unbridled winning “only” eight of 24 starts. Black Tie Affair winning “only” 18 of 45.
They did earn more than $4.4-million and $3.3-million, respectively, bankrolls greater than half of this year’s finalists and not overly inflated by any overseas or domestic paydays. They also each won a Breeders’ Cup Classic, Unbridled in 1990 as a 3-year-old and Black Tie Affair in 1991 as a 5-year-old. Black Tie Affair’s Classic win came after two back-to-back appearances in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
He certainly was a pretty good sprinter, considering he was third in the 1990 edition behind Safely Kept and Dayjur, and whipped the odds-on Housebuster to win the 1991 Commonwealth Breeders’ Cup Stakes in 1:21.86.
Unbridled beat Housebuster in the start prior to that, winning the 7-furlong Deputy Minister Handicap in 1:21.92.
Needless to say those two races made an impression and stand out to me as outstanding performances worthy of some sort of acknowledgement. They’re Hall of Fame resume builders, showing the ability to excel at any track, any distance, against any opponent.
For Carl Nafzger, the Hall of Fame trainer of Unbridled, it was something against the grain and most definitely against the grain of what his peers would do today. Here he was putting the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, and oh by the way, also the Kentucky Derby winner that same season, up against a champion sprinter in his seasonal debut. Then he won.
Black Tie Affair might sport an even stronger resume, with 11 graded stakes victories. The common knock on the Irish-bred was that he benefited from speed biases and won his races gate-to-wire. Winning six straight to end the season, all in graded stakes, and beating the best field that could be assembled trumps that argument every time. No doubt about it.
Maybe the day will come for Unbridled and Black Tie Affair, but the guess from this corner is that it probably will not. Not in an era when Hall of Fame resumes look more and more like individual championship seasons thanks to the all-too-common practice nowadays of staying in the box instead of thinking, or going, outside of it.