By Mike MacAdam/The Leader-Herald
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame voters will have a crowded starting gate of choices to pick from in 2023.
A total of nine horses have been selected by the Nominating Committee, along with six trainers and one jockey.
The new nominees include Arrogate, who broke General Assembly’s Saratoga Race Course main track record for a mile and a quarter in 2016 when he won the Travers by 13 1-2 lengths, which remains the third-largest winning margin in 153 runnings of the Travers.
Arrogate went on to beat older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2016, including California Chrome, who is also a first-ballot nominee.
The other horses being considered include Blind Luck, Game On Dude, Havre de Grace, Kona Gold, Lady Eli, Rags to Riches and Songbird.
Nominees among trainers include Christophe Clement, Kiaran McLaughlin, Graham Motion, Doug O’Neill, John Sadler and John Shirreffs, and Corey Nakatani remains the only jockey nominated.
Voting on the contemporary category candidates, along with inductees selected by the Historic Review and Pillars of the Turf committees, will be announced on April 25, and the induction ceremony will be held at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs on Friday, Aug. 4.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Arrogate came into the Travers as a relative unknown, not having raced in stakes company, but quickly established himself as a star and made a late push to win the 2016 Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old male in North America while having skipped all three of the Triple Crown races.
“It’s crazy,” Smith said after the Travers. “He just did a mile and a quarter, and as you can see galloping out, I had trouble getting him to stop.”
“I mean, that was ridiculous,” Baffert said. “Broke a track record. When I saw 1:59, I was like, wow . . . and Mike didn’t know how far he won by. He thought somebody was coming.”
Arrogate carried that momentum into his 4-year-old season, when he won the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, but he didn’t win again and was retired after a fifth-place finish to Gun Runner in the 2017 BC Classic. Arrogate retired with a record of 7-1-1 from 11 starts for purse earnings of $17,422,600, which remains the career record among North America-based horses.
Other than finishing second to Arrogate in the 2016 BC Classic, California Chrome was undefeated as a 5-year-old that year and won Horse of the Year and the Eclipse for older dirt males.
He also won Horse of the Year and the Eclipse for 3-year-old males in 2014, when California Chrome made a bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 but fell short in the Belmont Stakes.
California Chrome retired after a ninth-place finish in the 2017 Pegasus World Cup with a record of 16-4-1 from 27 starts for earnings of $14,752,650, the North American record until Arrogate broke it.
Rags to Riches is best known for having beaten Curlin, who would go on to win Horse of the Year twice, in the Belmont, the first filly to do so in 102 years.
Songbird finished her spectacular 15-race career a mere neck and a nose away from being undefeated, with second-place finishes in the 2017 Personal Ensign at Saratoga and to future Hall of Famer Beholder in the 2016 BC Distaff at Santa Anita Park.
Otherwise, Songbird won 13 career races, including a sweep of the 2016 Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga on her way to the Eclipse Award.
This is her first year of eligibility, as is the case for the Chad Brown-trained Lady Eli, who came back from a bout of laminitis to win an Eclipse Award as top turf female in 2017.
She was in contention for an Eclipse in 2015 when she stepped on a nail and developed the hoof inflammation laminitis, jeopardizing not only her career, but her life.
She was 13 months away from the races before returning with a close second-place finish in the Ballston Spa at Saratoga, and returned in 2017 to put together a championship season that included wins in the Diana and Ballston Spa.
Blind Luck was a multiple Grade I winner at 2 and 3, including the 2010 Kentucky Oaks and Alabama.
Her chief rival in many of her biggest races was Havre de Grace, who won was named Horse of the Year in 2011 after a season that included beating older males in the Woodward at Saratoga.
The Baffert-trained Game On Dude, whose owners included Joe Torre, won 14 graded stakes, including eight Grade I’s. Racing from 2010 through 2014, he compiled a record of 16-7-1 from 34 starts and earnings of $6,498,893.
He swept the three signature Grade I races for older horses in California, the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic, to become only the second horse to win all three in a single year, joining Hall of Famer Lava Man.
Clement’s Grade I winners include Gio Ponti, Tonalist (2014 Belmont), Discreet Marq, Forbidden Apple, Mauralanka, Relaxed Gesture, Rutherienne, Voodoo Dancer, Gufo and Winchester.
He scored his first Breeders’ Cup victory in 2021, when the Bobby Flay-owned Pizza Bianca won Juvenile Fillies.
McLaughlin, who retired from training in 2020 and now works as jockey Luis Saez’s agent, is making his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot.
A winner of 179 graded/group stakes, McLaughlin won three Breeders’ Cup races, the 2006 Classic (Invasor), 2007 Filly and Mare Turf (Lahudood) and the 2016 Dirt Mile (Tamarkuz).
Invasor won the Whitney at Saratoga on his way to 2006 Horse of the Year honors and 2013 Hall of Fame induction.
Motion won the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup with champion Animal Kingdom, trained two-time Eclipse Award winner Main Sequence and has won four Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2004 Turf with Better Talk Now.
O’Neill won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012 with I’ll Have Another and the Derby again in 2016 with Nyquist. He has trained five Eclipse Award winners, I’ll Have Another, Maryfield, Nyquist, Stevie Wonderboy and Thor’s Echo, and has won five Breeders’ Cup races.
He also trained Hall of Famer Lava Man.
Shirreffs is best known for having trained Hall of Famer Zenyatta, who retired with just one loss from 20 career starts that included a victory over males in the 2009 BC Classic.
Sadler is appearing on the ballot for the first time while coming off a 2022 season in which he trained Horse of the Year Flightline.
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 in the contemporary category must have been active within the past 25 years. Candidates not active within the past 25 years are eligible through the Historic Review process.
Hall of Fame voters may select as many or as few candidates as they believe are worthy of induction. All candidates that receive 50% 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.
The Hall of Fame Nominating Committee is chaired by Edward Bowen and is composed of Bowen, Caton Bredar, Steven Crist, Tom Durkin, Bob Ehalt, Tracy Gantz, Teresa Genaro, Jane Goldstein, Steve Haskin, Jay Hovdey, Alicia Hughes, Tom Law, Jay Privman, Michael Veitch and Charlotte Weber.
Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.