Hall of Fame Day

As has been customary the last several seasons, a standing room only audience gathered in Fasig-Tipton’s Humphrey S. Finney pavilion for the Hall of Fall induction ceremony on Friday morning.  Sam the Bugler, wearing an outfit that was not what you’d expect─his red coachman’s coat and top hat─but a black polo shirt with the uneven tails out of his ballooning white pants, called the participants to post at 10:30 a.m.

Race caller Tom Durkin wrote an eloquent overture and delivered it well.  The Selection Committee chairman Ed Bowen introduced 16 trainers and jockeys who had been inducted to the Hall in prior years.  With each introduction, the applause for each person grew longer and longer until, by the last of the introductions, the applause lasted longer than their biographies─in need of a trim themselves.

If you were looking for poignancy, there wasn’t much in the inductees’ speeches. Trainer Roger Attfield raised the issue of a “few bad apples in the fresh basket.” Role model, family man, benefactor, industry leader, and jockey John R. Velazquez, saved for last on the program, became choked up and couldn’t talk.  Coaxed back to the lectern several times by applause, Velazquez gave thanks to a long list of relatives, friends, and mentors.

Otherwise, the entire hour and 30 minutes had an easy way about it. D. Wayne Lukas in aviator sunglasses despite the cloud cover, Leona Velazquez rushing up to the stage to stand by her man when she saw he was overcome with emotion, Velazquez’s mother wiping away tears as her son talked about how she wished that he wouldn’t leave Puerto Rico to become a jockey, the chic ensembles of Cheryl and Barry Schwartz, the noblesse oblige of John Hendrickson selecting a seat in the back of the taxed auditorium, even though he could have insisted on being up front─these were the highlights for people watchers.

Photographers swing into action to capture history at Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Leona Velazquez became an endearing figure when she came to the side of her man in a moment of need.

Rain made the races mad dashes, even at the longer distances. Almost every horse that gained the lead from or near the start couldn’t be caught.  Favorites won the second, third, seventh, eighth, and 10th races in that manner.  Turf racing was scrapped.

Horseplayers who wagered on the 6-5 favorite Csaba in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. II) were worried that he wouldn’t get the 1 1/8 mile distance. Well, the sloppy conditions allowed the son of Kitten’s Joy to get most of it.  Even with his lineage, it is doubtful that grass would have advanced him. 

Quick Wit, by Sharp Humor, obviously liked the change of surface.  Quick Wit won by a head bob after a stretch duel with Csaba.

The appropriately named Regal Strike won the third race─”The Spa Welcomes Mo” purse.  Mo is New York Yankee Mariano Rivera, the king of relief pitchers and a certain future member of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Vic Zast is the author of The History and Art of 25 Travers.  He has attended the races at Saratoga for 47 straight summers.

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