American Pharoah, Todd Pletcher elected to Hall of Fame

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The highlight of Bob Baffert’s Hall of Fame career as a thoroughbred trainer happened six years ago. Nothing else comes close.

“Winning the Triple Crown with American Pharoah was the greatest sports moment of my life,” said Baffert, fresh from winning his seventh Kentucky Derby. “It was so emotional and such a terrific thing for racing. He deserves all the accolades he gets.”

The greatest accolade came at Wednesday’s announcement that American Pharoah has been elected to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher and 13-time champion steeplechase trainer Jack Fisher also were elected.

American Pharoah ended racing’s 37-year Triple Crown drought when he swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 2015. A bay colt bred in Kentucky by owner Zayat Stables, American Pharoah went on to win the Haskell Invitational and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Coupled with his victories earlier in the year in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, he was voted Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male for 2015, a year after he was crowned as the top 2-year-old.

Overall, American Pharoah posted a career record of 9-1-0 from 11 starts and earned $8,650,300. He now stands at stud in Kentucky.

“He’s certainly among the all-time greats. I don’t think there is any question about that,” Baffert said in a release from the Hall of Fame. “He did everything so effortlessly and with such class. The way he moved, his mechanics were absolutely flawless.”

The 53-year-old Pletcher holds records for career earnings ($405,791,977) and Eclipse Awards and ranks seventh in wins (5,118). He’s 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). Pletcher also has won 11 Breeders’ Cup races and has led all North American trainers in earnings 10 times.

Since he struck out on his own after breaking into the thoroughbred racing business as an assistant for D. Wayne Lukas from 1989-95, Pletcher has won 60 individual meet training titles and, according to Equibase data, has won 708 graded stakes, including 166 Grade 1s.

“I’m really humbled to be elected to the Hall of Fame. It’s an incredible honor,” Pletcher said. “Training horses is all I ever wanted to do. I remember being 11 or 12 and telling my mom I wanted to train and she said it was wonderful. From that point on with her endorsement I never thought of doing anything else.”

Fisher, 57, won his first race as a trainer in 1988 at Middleburg, Virginia, and has been a dominant force atop the National Steeplechase Association standings for the past two decades. Fisher has 593 career steeplechase victories, ranks second all-time in purse earnings with more than $17.8 million, and is the only trainer in steeplechase history to surpass $1 million in purse earnings in a year, something he’s done five times.

Among his champions was two-time Eclipse Award winner and Hall of Famer Good Night Shirt, one of only three horses to earn $1 million in steeplechase racing. Fisher also trained Eclipse Award winners Scorpiancer (2017) and Moscato (2020).

“I was terrible in school and didn’t want to be there. I loved riding and I love training,” said Fisher, whose father, John, also was a trainer. “I’ve had some wonderful and patient owners and great talent in the barn. I’m pretty darn lucky.”

American Pharoah and Pletcher were selected in the contemporary category in their first year of eligibility. Fisher was chosen by the museum’s steeplechase review committee, which meets once every four years.

The class of 2021 will be enshrined Aug. 6 in Saratoga Springs, New York, along with the 2020 inductees: trainer Mark Casse; jockey Darrel McHargue; thoroughbreds Tom Bowling and Wise Dan; and Alice Headley Chandler, J. Keene Daingerfield Jr. and George D. Widener Jr. in the “Pillars of the Turf” category. Last year’s induction ceremony was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ceremony this year will be broadcast live on the museum’s website. An announcement regarding public attendance will be made later.

Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

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BENSALEM, Pa. – Taiba won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.67 and paid $4.80, $3 and $2.60.

It was Baffert’s fourth win in the Grade 1 event at Parx Racing. He also won in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Smith won the race for the third time, all aboard Baffert horses.

Zandon returned $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $3 to show.

Taiba was coming off a second-place finish in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. The colt was 12th in the Kentucky Derby under Tim Yakteen, who took over training him while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension.

“He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one,” Baffert said from his base in California. “He proved today he is a good horse. He is getting better and better.”

Baffert Taiba will be pointed toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The colt has three wins in five starts this year.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.