First of all, thank you so much to everyone who wrote, commented, and wished me luck in my OTB TV appearance yesterday. I think that I made it through without making an utter fool of myself, and I definitely made it through without throwing up, so I figure that’s a success. Thanks, too, to Seth Merrow at Equidaily for offering Jessica Chapel of Railbird and me the opportunity to talk about the effect of the internet on the race fans. The whole thing was actually kind of fun.
Back to business:
Tuesday Monday, jockeys Edgar Prado and Milo Valenzuela; horses Inside Information, Ancient Title, and Manila; and trainer Carl Nafzger were inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. Dr. Dean Richardson of New Bolton was the keynote speaker, and the event was held in the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion on East Avenue. The induction ceremony lasted ninety minutes and was marked by gratitude and respect on the part of those who presented the inductees, and humility on the part of those inducted. Some highlights:
Dr. Richardson said that he was at first stymied when told that he couldn’t talk about either veterinary medicine or Barbaro, and that he was supposed to talk about himself. His remarks on the whole focused on his love both for horses and for the people who take care of them: “I love working with people who loves horses as individual athletes.” He went on to say that loving horses as athletes doesn’t mean that you can’t give them legal medications, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t race them in claiming races; he emphasized that in his experience, the majority of people who own horses take good care of them, despite the public perception that racing can be a cruel sport. He closed by saying that if you love beauty, strength, courage, and intelligence, you love the Thoroughbred racehorse. He mentioned more than once the messages he got from “racing haters” during the Barbaro ordeal, and it seemed apparent that he wanted to emphasize that his concern for animals as a vet is not incompatible with Thoroughbred racing.
Mike Kane then introduced the members of the Hall of Fame who were present at the ceremony (note: some of the folks listed below came in and were introduced later in the program): Walter Blum, Pat Day, Richard Mandella, Jacinto Vasquez, Angel Cordero, Jr., Earlie Fires, Jorge Velasquez, LeRoy Jolley, D. Wayne Lukas, Shug McGaughey, Allen Jerkens, Kent Desormeaux, Jerry Bailey, Bill Mott, Jonathan Sheppard, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Bobby Frankel, Nick Zito, Chris McCarron. Wow.
In his acceptance speech, Edgar Prado first thanked the grooms, exercise riders, and hotwalkers “who gave me the best opportunity to win a race.” He thanked, among others, Scotty Schulhofer for putting him on Lemon Drop Kid; Richard Dutrow for “always believing in [him]”; Bobby Frankel for “always find a great horse for [him] to ride.”
Getting choked up, Prado acknowledged his mother, who died in 2006, then, lightening the mood, thanked her for “making me 5’3” and 114 pounds.”
In introducing Mike Shannon, owner of Manila, trainer LeRoy Jolley recalled that as purses got bigger and stakes got higher, Shannon used to get so nervous before races that he couldn’t watch them anymore. Saying that Shannon had become a “Grade I stall walker,” Jolley threatened, before the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, to put a goat in his hotel room to combat his nerves. In accepting the award, Shannon observed that the person who really deserved to be in the Hall of Fame was the person who had nominated Manila eleven times: “This Bud’s for you!” When asked how it felt to be admitted to the Hall of Fame after being turned down ten times, Shannon said, “Better than getting turned down eleven times!”
James Tafel, introducing Carl Nafzger, noted that Nafzger knew so much about training horses that he’d written a book on the topic; thereafter, when asked a question about his training methods, Nafzger would simply say, “Buy the book!”
Continuing the theme, Nafzger dispensed two pieces of free advice that he’d picked up from other trainers. From John Nerud: “Keep ‘em fat, keep ‘em happy, work them half a mile, and they’ll win.” From Bobby Frankel, following a win by a horse who’d been beaten fifteen lengths his last time out: “Ask yourself, ‘Where did he stop and why did he stop there?’” If you can answer that question and correct the behavior, you can train a winner.
The pavilion was standing-room only; having rushed there from the TV gig, I was lucky to get a spot on a step on the upper level, and I didn’t feel so bad about my seat when I noticed that Steve Asmussen was standing on the upper level—if the trainer of the Horse of the Year has to stand, I guess that I can’t complain about not finding a seat.
The event celebrated not only the individuals honored, but racing as a community; so many of the people have known each other for so many years, and their affection for each other showed so clearly. It didn’t, though, feel like a private club; it felt like a generous community that treasures its sport and its fans, and is well aware of its traditions and of the people and the horses that have made the sport great.
Every time I walk into the Hall of Fame, I am awed by the names on the plaques and by the colors and patterns of the silks displayed; being in the Hall of Fame matters to the inductees, it seemed to me, because it is tangible recognition that they are accepted into the tradition and historical community of horse racing, recognition that each of them cherishes humbly, not only because of what they’ve achieved, but because of what they’ve contributed.