By Mike Farrell
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame voters were stingy this year, electing only seven new members for enshrinement.
It’s a sharp drop from last year when 16 were admitted. While the numbers are lower this time, you can’t argue with the quality of the inductees.
Trainer Mark Casse and Wise Dan, a two-time Horse of the Year, enter in the contemporary category.
The Historic Review Committee chose jockey Darrel McHargue and the racehorse Tom Bowling. Alice Headley Chandler, J. Keene Dangerfield, Jr. and George D. Widener Jr. enter as Pillars of the Turf.
The induction ceremony, always a highpoint of the Saratoga racing season, is set for Aug. 7.
The festivities — in fact, the entire Saratoga meet — are in jeopardy due to the coronavirus outbreak in hard-hit New York. While racing, minus on-site fans, is starting to stir in Kentucky and California, New York remains in lockdown with no end in sight.
“A decision on the status of the 2020 induction ceremony with be forthcoming,” said the release announcing the inductees.
Casse and Wise Dan were the only two of 11 finalists to be named on at least 50 percent of the ballots submitted in the contemporary category.
For Casse, the induction affirms his ascension to the top ranks of North American trainers. Many U.S. racing fans who first became aware of Casse assumed he was Canadian, based on his seemingly French name and his dominance on the Toronto circuit.
Couldn’t be further from the truth. Casse is as red, white and blue as they come, a Hoosier from Indiana. He took out his first trainer’s license in Massachusetts at the age of 17 and scored his first win at Keeneland in 1979.
It was north of the border that he first found fame, winning the Sovereign Award as Canada’s top trainer a record 11 times. He has won races in the Canadian Triple Crown seven times and was inducted into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame in 2016.
In recent years, Casse has been a major force on the U.S. scene, winning two thirds of the Triple Crown last year with War of Will in the Preakness (G1) and Sir Winston in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
Casse will long be remembered as the developer of the champion turf mare Tepin who beat the boys in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) and Europe’s best in the 2016 Queen Anne Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot.
It’s only a matter of time until she joins Casse in the Hall of Fame.
Casse’s horses have earned over $174 million, ranking him ninth on the all-time list. This was his third year as a finalist.
Wise Dan, bred and owned by Morton Fink and trained by Charles LoPresti, made the Hall on his first try.
He was king of the hill in 2012 and 2013, winning six Eclipse Awards in that span. He raced from 2010-14, compiling a record of 23-2-0 from 31 starts with $7.5 million in earnings. The chestnut gelding won 11 Grade 1 stakes, including a pair of Breeders’ Cup Miles.
Not looking to hurt anyone’s feelings, the Hall of Fame never reveals the vote totals so we don’t know if there were near misses. Selectors could name as many candidates as they wished and many opted to bypass such notable trainers as Doug O’Neill, a two-time Kentucky Derby (G1) winner with I’ll Have Another (2012) and Nyquist (2016), Christophe Clement and David Whiteley.
Jockey Corey Nakatani did not make the cut and some prominent horses were left out including Blind Luck, Havre de Grace and Rags to Riches.
Oh well, there’s always next year except for Whiteley, who had his final swing in the contemporary category.
Whiteley, the son of Hall of Famer Frank Whiteley, retired in 1995 and died in 2017. His top horses included Coastal, who denied Spectacular Bid the 1979 Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, and the champion mares Revidere, Waya and Just A Game.
Whiteley’s candidacy now moves to the Historic Review Committee which voted in McHargue and Tom Bowling this year.
McHargue rode from 1972-1988 posting 2,553 wins. He earned the Eclipse Award as leading jockey in 1978 when he set the North American record with $6.1 million in purse money. He won six graded stakes aboard fellow Hall of Famer John Henry.
McHargue is still active in the sport as a steward in California.
We go way back in time for Tom Bowling who won 14 of 17 starts from 1872-74. His top victories included the Travers Stakes and the Jersey Derby.
Chandler founded Mill Ridge Farm and has been a prominent breeder for a half century.
Dangerfield, who died in 1993, was considered the dean of racing officials. He served as chief steward in Illinois, New Jersey and Kentucky.
Widener, a prominent breeder, owner and executive was elected to the Jockey Club in 1916 and served as chairman for 14 years. The Hall of Fame named him its first Exemplar of Racing in 1971, the year that he died.
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Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.