SARATOGA SPRINGS — Six racehorses, three trainers, and one jockey account for the 10 finalists that will comprise the National Museum of Racing’s 2021 Hall of Fame ballot, as chosen by the Museum’s Hall of Fame Nominating Committee. The finalists are racehorses American Pharoah (first year of eligibility), Blind Luck, Game On Dude, Havre de Grace, Kona Gold, and Rags to Riches; trainers Christophe Clement, Doug O’Neill, and Todd Pletcher (first year of eligibility); and jockey Corey Nakatani.
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 on 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. The Hall of Fame induction ceremony — which will honor both the 2020 and 2021 inductees — is tentatively scheduled for Friday, Aug. 6, at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, at 10:30 a.m. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many details relating to the induction ceremony are still to be determined.
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.
A bay colt bred in Kentucky by owner Zayat Stables, American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile—Littleprincessemma, by Yankee Gentleman), became racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years when he swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 2015 en route to Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and ridden by Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah won the Eclipse Award for Champion 2-Year-Old Male in 2014 on the strength of Grade 1 victories in the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner Stakes. As a sophomore, American Pharoah won the Rebel Stakes (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) prior to the Triple Crown. Following his historic Belmont victory, he won the Haskell Invitational (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Overall, American Pharoah posted a record of 9-1-0 from 11 starts and earned $8,650,300.
A chestnut filly bred in Kentucky by Fairlawn Farm, Blind Luck (Pollard’s Vision—Lucky One, by Best of Luck) won the Eclipse Award for Champion 3-Year-Old Filly in 2010. A multiple Grade 1 winner at ages 2 and 3, Blind Luck was also a Grade 1 winner at 4. Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Hollendorfer in partnership with Mark DeDomenico LLC, John Carver, and Peter Abruzzo, Blind Luck posted a career record of 12-7-2 from 22 starts and earnings of $3,279,520 from 2009 through 2011. She won a total of 10 graded stakes in her career, including six Grade 1s: the Kentucky Oaks, Oak Leaf Stakes, Hollywood Starlet Stakes, Las Virgenes Stakes, Alabama Stakes, and Vanity Handicap. Throughout her career, Blind Luck defeated the likes of Havre de Grace (three times), Life At Ten, Unrivaled Belle, Evening Jewel, Devil May Care, and Switch.
A dark bay gelding bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs, Game On Dude (Awesome Again—Worldly Pleasure, by Devil His Due) won 14 graded stakes, including eight Grade 1s. Racing from 2010 through 2014, he compiled a record of 16-7-1 from 34 starts and earnings of $6,498,893. Owned by Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride LLC, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable LLC, and Bernie Schiappa, Game On Dude was trained by Baffert. He is the only horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) three times (2011, 2013, 2014), setting a stakes record in the 2014 edition by covering 1¼ miles in 1:58.17. Game On Dude also won the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and San Antonio Stakes (G2) twice each, as well as single editions of the Pacific Classic (G1), Californian (G2), Charles Town Classic (G2), Lone Star Derby (G3), and Native Diver (G3). He also won the Grade 1 Goodwood in 2011 and won the same race when it was renamed the Awesome Again (G1) in 2012. In 2013, Game On Dude swept the three signature Grade 1 races for older horses in California — the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic — becoming only the second horse to win those three events in a single year (Hall of Famer Lava Man was the first).
A bay filly bred in Kentucky by Nancy S. Dillman, Havre de Grace (Saint Liam—Easter Brunette, by Carson City) won the Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year and Champion Older Mare in 2011. Trained by Anthony Dutrow at ages 2 and 3 and by Larry Jones thereafter, Havre de Grace was campaigned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms throughout her career. After finishing second to champion Blind Luck in thrilling editions of the Delaware Oaks and Alabama in 2010, Havre de Grace earned her first graded stakes victory later that year in the Cotillion (G2). In her 2011 Horse of the Year campaign, she beat Blind Luck in the Azeri (G3) and went on to win Grade 1s in the Apple Blossom, Woodward (defeating males, including Flat Out), and Beldame (defeating Hall of Famer Royal Delta). Havre de Grace made one start as a 5-year-old in 2012, winning the listed New Orleans Ladies’ Stakes before being retired with a career record of 9-4-2 from 16 starts and earnings of $2,586,175.
A bay gelding bred in Kentucky by Carlos Perez, Kona Gold (Java Gold—Double Sunrise, by Slew o’ Gold) won the Eclipse Award for Champion Sprinter in 2000, when he set a six-furlong track record at Churchill Downs in his Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) victory. Campaigned by Bruce Headley (who also served as his trainer), Irwin and Andrew Molasky, Michael Singh, et al, Kona Gold raced from 1998 through 2003 with a record of 14-7-2 from 30 starts and earnings of $2,293,384. He set a track record for 5½ furlongs at Santa Anita and won a total of 10 graded stakes, including the Grade 1 San Carlos Handicap, all while ridden by Hall of Famer Alex Solis. Kona Gold won multiple editions of the Bing Crosby Handicap (G2), Potrero Grande Breeders’ Cup Handicap (G2), and El Conejo Handicap (once as a G3). He registered Beyer Speed Figures of 110 or higher 17 times. On 10 occasions, his Beyer Figure was 115 or higher, including a career-best of 123. Kona Gold made five consecutive appearances in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
A chestnut filly bred in Kentucky by Skara Glen Stables, Rags to Riches (A.P. Indy—Better Than Honour, by Deputy Minister) won the Eclipse Award for Champion 3-Year-Old Filly in 2007, a campaign highlighted by an historic victory in the Belmont Stakes. Trained by Pletcher and Michael McCarthy for owners Michael B. Tabor and Derrick Smith, Rags to Riches broke her maiden in her second career start on Jan. 7, 2007, at Santa Anita. That six-length victory was the beginning of a five-race win streak. The next four wins were all Grade 1s: the Las Virgenes Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks (by 5½ lengths) in California, the Kentucky Oaks (by 4¼ lengths), and the Belmont in New York. In the Belmont, Rags to Riches defeated two-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Curlin by a head to become the first filly in 102 years to win the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Rags to Riches remains one of only three fillies to win the Belmont. She finished second in her next race, the Grade 1 Gazelle, and a right front leg injury was discovered after the race. A 4-year-old campaign was being planned for Rags to Riches, but she re-injured her right front pastern and was retired with a record of 5-1-0 from seven starts and earnings of $1,342,528.
Clement, 55, has won 2,094 races to date with purse earnings of more than $139 million (12th all time) in a career that began in 1991. Clement trained three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti, winner of four straight Grade 1s on the turf in 2009, as well as 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, who also won consecutive runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2014 and 2015. 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, among others.
A native of Paris, France, Clement began his career in the United States by winning with the first horse he saddled, Spectaculaire, on Oct. 20, 1991, at Belmont. He has since trained 18 horses that have earned $1 million or more. Other Grade 1 winners trained by Clement include Discreet Marq, Forbidden Apple, Mauralanka, Relaxed Gesture, Rutherienne, Voodoo Dancer, and Winchester, among others.
O’Neill, 52, has won 2,552 races to date with purse earnings of more than $138 million (13th all time) in a career that began in 1988. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012 with I’ll Have Another and a second Derby in 2016 with Nyquist. O’Neill 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.
A native of Dearborn, Mich., O’Neill won nine graded stakes with Hall of Fame member Lava Man, including three editions of the Hollywood Gold Cup and two runnings each of the Santa Anita Handicap, Pacific Classic, and Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap. O’Neill has won five training titles at Del Mar, where in 2015 he became the first trainer to ever win five races on a card there. He has also won four training titles at Santa Anita, including a record 56-win meet in the winter of 2006-2007, and ranks eighth all time there with 619 wins. He has trained 11 horses that have earned $1 million or more. O’Neill has multiple victories in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Alcibiades, FrontRunner, Santa Anita Derby, and Triple Bend, among others. Other major wins include the Breeders’ Futurity, Donn Handicap, Florida Derby, Blue Grass, Godolphin Mile, and Japan Cup Dirt. Overall, O’Neill has won 132 graded stakes.
Pletcher, 53, has won 5,072 races (eighth all time) with record North American purse earnings of $400,647,175 in a career that began in 1996. A winner of a record seven Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Trainer, Pletcher has won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017) and the Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), and Tapwrit (2017). He ranks fourth all time at the Breeders’ Cup in earnings ($21,508,030) and fifth in wins (11) and has won 699 graded stakes. Pletcher has also won four or more editions of the Beldame, Champagne, Coaching Club American Oaks, Florida Derby, Mother Goose, Spinaway, Spinster, and Wood Memorial, among others. He has also won the Kentucky Oaks three times and four Canadian Triple Crown races.
A native of Dallas, Pletcher has led all North American trainers in earnings 10 times. He has trained 11 Eclipse Award-winning horses — Hall of Famer Ashado, English Channel, Fleet Indian, Lawyer Ron, Left Bank, Rags to Riches, Shanghai Bobby, Speightstown, Wait a While, Uncle Mo, and Vino Rosso — and 20 horses that have earned more than $1.8 million. On the New York Racing Association circuit, Pletcher has won 16 leading trainer titles at Belmont, 14 at Saratoga, and six at Aqueduct. He has won 16 titles at Gulfstream, five at Keeneland, and two at Monmouth.
Nakatani, 50, won 3,909 races with purse earnings of $234,554,534 million in a career that spanned from 1988 to 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, 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.
A native of Covina, Calif., Nakatani won five Grade 1 races with Hall of Famer Lava Man. He also won multiple stakes with Hall of Famer Serena’s Song, as well as Eclipse Award winners Shared Belief and Sweet Catomine. Nakatani won a record 19 stakes during a single meet at Santa Anita in 2006-2007, breaking the previous record held by Hall of Famer Laffit Pincay, Jr. Nakatani ranks eighth all time in stakes wins at Santa Anita (behind seven Hall of Famers) with 134 and ninth in overall wins at Santa Anita with 1,075. He also stands second all time at Del Mar with 108 stakes wins (behind only Hall of Famer Chris McCarron; the next eight on the list are all in the Hall of Fame) and sixth in overall wins with 705.