Dale Baird, the all-time leading trainer by wins, died in an automobile accident Dec. 23, a spokesman for Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort confirmed. He was 72.
A story in the Greenfield, Indiana Daily Reporter said three persons were killed in the accident that involved five vehicles. Baird was traveling westbound on Interstate 70 hauling an empty horse trailer when he lost control of his sport utility vehicle. Baird crossed the median into eastbound traffic about about 5 p.m., the paper said, and broadsided a car driven by two teenage cousins, both of whom were also killed instantly.
Baird was thrown from his vehicle but a passenger in his automobile, Shelby Bartholomew, who was also thrown, survived the accident, the newspaper reported.
A semi collided with the back of the teens' car, and a fourth car then hit the back of the semi. A fifth car hit the median avoiding the accident. None of the passengers in those vehicles was injured. The accident was not far from Indianapolis, on the border of the Indiana counties of Hancock and Henry.
Baird became the first trainer in history to reach 7,000 wins in 1996, became the first to reach 8,000 in 1999, and in 2004, became the first to reach 9,000.
When Jerry Hollendorfer became the fourth trainer to reach 5,000 victories Dec. 22, Daily Racing Form credited Baird with 9,445 wins. The others to have reached 5,000 wins are Jack Van Berg and King Leatherbury, but the other three are all way behind Baird.
After he reached his 9,000th win, Baird was honored with a Special Eclipse Award in January 2005. He is not a member of racing's Hall of Fame.
Baird called Mountaineer in West Virginia home for more than 35 years. There he was just called "Dale," a trainer who saddled mostly claimers. But he met them in the winner's circle more than anyone else in the game ever has.
"He is Mountaineer racing," Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at the West Virginia track, said Dec. 24. "I don't even know what to say. He has been here since day one. I don't think people quite understand the impact he had on racing."
A modest, reserved man with a sense of humor, Baird was at home on the backside wearing jeans. That modest man, in 1973, became the first trainer to win more than 300 races in a year. He passed that mark in seven other years. Baird, who has been active in the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, also has been the leading trainer by wins and leading owner by wins numerous times.
A native of Martinsville, Ill., he won his first race in the summer of 1961 with a horse named New York. Through the years, perhaps the most amazing thing about Baird's winners is that besides training them, he has owned nearly all of them as well. He also owns a farm not far from Mountaineer in West Virginia's panhandle region.
During many of the years in his heyday, Baird would buy and sell more than 200 horses each year. He had said in recent years he planned to cut back, but again this year is the leading trainer at Mountaineer.
Baird's father, John "J.I." Baird, was also a trainer, as is Dale's brother, John. Dale's son, Bart, and John's son, J.M., both train at Mountaineer.