Everything revolves around the horses … and their trainers during the HOF induction ceremony

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – To punctuate his acceptance speech that concluded Friday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, trainer Todd Pletcher used a favorite line from the late Cot Campbell, the thoroughbred owner and personality. of colorful race that was one of its long-time patrons.

“It’s not going to sound that cool coming from me, he was a cool guy,” Pletcher said, “but most of all I want to thank the horses, the horses and the horses.”

Campbell’s words were a fitting coda for the annual Race Wellness Day that salutes the best of the best in America’s oldest sport. The 2020 ceremony was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the 65th and 66th Hall of Fame classes at the National Museum of Racing were welcomed into the shrine in a two-hour ceremony at the Humphrey S. Finney sales pavilion of Fasig-Tipton.

Pletcher, 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and steeplechase trainer Jack Fisher were part of this year’s class. The 2020 inductees were trainer Mark Casse, jockey Darrell McHargue, horses Wise Dan and Tom Bowling, and three honored as turf mainstays: J. Keene Dangerfield Jr., George D. Widener, Jr. and Alice Headley Chandler. Pletcher and American Pharoah were elected the first year they were eligible for election: 25 years of service for a trainer and five calendar years after retirement for horses.

While Casse, with the help of his wife, Tina, delivered the most moving speech of the event, Pletcher was generally precise and in control throughout. It was introduced by owner Mike Repole, who totally ignored the brief to be brief and spoke for over 18 minutes. Repole served a mixture of praise and humor to greet his trainer and friend.

“I started owning racehorses in 2004, and I saw this young trainer continue to win races,” said Repole. “I sat there at Aqueuct, Belmont and Saratoga and watched my horses in the same race as his. What happened regularly after races, he would walk right next to me and go to the winner’s circle and I would sit there losing. If you can’t beat him, you join him.

Repole said Pletcher was in the Hall of Fame Hall of Fame, the top 1% and predicted that at age 54 he would add to his long list of accomplishments.

“He’s an icon. He’s a legend, ”Repole said. “He’s going to be one of the greatest of all time.”

Pletcher is already leading the way with $ 410 million in scholarship won. He was the first to hit $ 300 million and has a $ 48 million lead over fellow Hall of Fame member Steve Asmussen. Pletcher ranks seventh on the career list with 5,157 wins, including two at the GI Kentucky Derby, three at the GI Belmont S. and 11 at the Breeders’ Cup.

After years of working for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher graduated in December 1995 and opened a stable of seven horses. He now trains 200 horses.

“I can’t tell you how humbled I am to join this esteemed group,” Pletcher said. “So many of these guys were my childhood heroes, role models and mentors, competitors.”

Pletcher noted that Jerry Bailey rode his first winner and that Jose Santos, one of 14 Hall of Fame members presented at the ceremony, was in contention for his first loser.

“José, don’t feel bad,” Pletcher said with a smile. “I’ve lost 17,458 more since then.”

Pletcher called Lukas a great mentor.

“After I got out on my own, the most common question I asked myself was: what did you learn while working for Wayne Lukas? Said Pletcher. “The answer is: there isn’t a thing. That’s all. Everything counts. Every horse counts. Every horse owner counts.

Fearing that he would forget to name and thank someone, and that he had made a mistake in 2004 in accepting his first Eclipse award, Pletcher called his Hall of Fame election a team event. But he was keen to salute the late Jeff Lukas, his first boss in 1989, who suffered brain damage when he was run over by a loose horse.

“I feel like no one has been more influential in the way I try to run my business than Wayne’s son Jeff,” Pletcher said. “Jeff was a detail-oriented person. He was driven. He was motivated. He was a talented rider and he had the unique ability to improve those around him. There is no doubt in my mind that if he hadn’t had a tragic accident, Jeff would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame years ago.

Breeder Ahmed Zayat and his son Justin accepted the American Pharoah plaque. Trainer Bob Baffert did not attend the event.

“Thank you very much for voting for American Pharoah to be here,” Zayat said. “It’s very, very humiliating for us. When I tried to think about what to talk about – I could probably talk for another two hours about what the American Pharaoh meant to me – I realized he didn’t. not about the Zayat family. It is about American Pharoah and what American Pharoah has accomplished. He said he wanted to “name American Pharoah as the horse of the people, the horse that got the fans excited.” .

Zayat said he had three distinct memories of the 2015 season: announcer Larry Collmus’ call of the arrival of GI Belmont S. which made American Pharoah the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. , followed by the reaction of the crowd; the welcome American Pharoah received at Saratoga, where he galloped past an estimated crowd of 15,000 on Friday the morning before his shocked defeat in the GI Travers; the hero’s tribute upon his arrival at Keeneland where he won the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“These are memories I will never forget about what American Pharoah meant to the sport and the public,” Zayat said.

Zayat congratulated the inductees of both classes, including Pletcher who trained horses for his stable.

“One last thing,” Zayat said. “Thank you, Bob Baffert for a brilliant training job and for opening your barn for everyone to come and visit American Pharoah.”

Casse had to wait a year for his induction ceremony and he took the opportunity to thank the people who put him on the path to the Hall of Fame. Topping the list was her late father, Norman, a trainer and an important figure in the development of breeding and ranching in Florida. Casse graduated as a teenager and became a successful trainer. He left daily competition on the track in the early 1990s to run Harry Mangurian’s farm, but returned several years later to win several titles in Canada and become one of the top coaches in the United States.

Confident, enthusiastic and outgoing, Casse quickly paved the way by stepping onto the podium wearing his new Hall of Fame blazer.

“Let me start by saying that I have a better chance of winning the Kentucky Derby than finishing this speech without losing my temper,” he said.

Casse’s voice faltered and cracked a bit, but he continued.

“I have been very lucky in my life to win many great races and awards, but nothing greater than this honor,” he said. “Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the different paths my life has taken. It amazes me that every experience, relationship, conversation with friends, families and clients has shaped and shaped my career. Who would have thought 50 years ago, as I slept there in the parking lot, Fasig-Tipton parking lot, with my dad, had breakfast every morning at the Saratoga Snack Shack that I would be here today? “

Casse said he wouldn’t have reached the Hall of Fame without having great horses, but the people who touched his life influenced him the most.

“Obviously my dad, Norman, encouraged me a lot to follow my passion,” he said. “My father was instrumental in my education with horses. And I inherited my love of racing from him. On this trip. Many of my family had to make sacrifices in order for me to continue my career, but none are taller than my mother. ”

At that point, Casse, too moved to continue, let his wife take over. She read the part describing how, when his parents divorced when he was 13, his mother accepted his request to stay in Florida with his father to be close to the horses.

Casse returned to the podium and thanked several of its principal owners, John and Debby Oxley, Charlotte Weber, Robert Masterson and Gary Barber, all present at the ceremony, for their support.

“In conclusion, my dad and I first visited the Hall of Fame in 1972 when I was 11,” Casse said. “I still remember walking with my mouth open in amazement. At the end of the visit, I said confidently to my father, “I will be here someday. Like any good father would, he said, “Yes, Mark, you will. “

“Well, we did.”

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