Jockey Randy Romero and three horses—Azeri, Best Pal, and Point Given—were among the class of 2010 inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame Aug. 13 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
“I’m so excited; it’s been a long time for me waiting for this day,” Romero said. “I’m so happy to make it into the Hall of Fame; it’s a dream come true and I finally made it. Dreams do come true, and I’m so thankful it’s on this side of this earth and not on the other side of it.”
Romero, 52, receives dialysis treatments three times a week as a result of having a kidney removed in 2008. He spent eight years on the Hall of Fame ballot before he was inducted. From 4,294 victories in a career that spanned from 1973-99, his mounts earned more than $75.2 million. He counts Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championship wins with top distaffers Go for Wand and undefeated Personal Ensign among his 122 graded stakes scores, as well as titles at 10 tracks, including Belmont Park, Arlington Park, Gulfstream Park, Keeneland, and Fair Grounds. He has 342 black-type wins to his credit.
“Especially with all the accidents I’ve had in my career, it’s like there was an angel on my shoulder while I was riding all the time,” Romero said. “I want to thank all my doctors—I must have had about 50 of them—that put me back together to ride my next race.”
Romero also thanked many trainers, fellow jockeys, jockey agents, and his family “for being there for me through all the ups and downs.” He received his Hall of Fame blazer and induction plaque to a standing ovation before a standing-room-only crowd. Viewers also tuned into the ceremony from across the country; it was televised live for the first time via HRTV.
Another touching acceptance speech was given by Larry Mabee, son of the late Mr. and Mrs. John C. Mabee, on behalf of ingoing homebred Best Pal (Habitony) of Golden Eagle Farm.
“He was a big, tough, ugly son of a gun,” Mabee said of the highest-earning California-bred in history. “He was mean and ornery; you didn’t turn your back on him. He took the groom’s finger off one day. But he got on the racetrack and he knew what his job was; he was there to race and he was there to win, every time he could.”
Best Pal won 18 of 47 starts in seven years of competition and earned $5.6 million. He is one of only four horses to win the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Charles H. Strub Stakes, all grade I races. The late gelding, who died in 1998, also won the 1991 Pacific Classic and finished second in Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
California connections were strong at the Hall of Fame ceremony, as trainer Bob Baffert accepted Point Given’s honors along with Terrence Collier, an associate of the big chestnut runner’s late owner Prince Ahmed bin Salman.
“If there is one race I could take back in my career it would be the 2001 Kentucky Derby,” Baffert said. “But for the next three months Point Given proved to be what I thought he was at the Kentucky Derby—unbeatable. It was a bitter disappointment when we had to retire him after the Travers in the summer of 2001, but he was without a doubt the best racehorse of that season and in my mind is among the best racehorses I ever trained.”
“Racing champions come and go but members of the Hall of Fame endure,” Collier said.
Trained by Baffert, Point Given (Thunder Gulch) raced for The Thoroughbred Corporation to win nine of 13 starts and earnings of $3.9 million. He was named Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male in 2001 after taking the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational, and Travers Stakes, all grade I, in succession. He finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby.
Also speaking to the crowd was Michael Paulson, who accepted Azeri’s award.
“(Being inducted into the Hall of Fame) is a real tribute to Azeri,” he said. “It’s not easy campaigning a champion like Azeri; it’s very nerve-wracking. Every time she went on the rack we were always very nervous and keeping our fingers crossed that she’d come back safely. “
Azeri (Jade Hunter), bred by the late Allen E. Paulson and campaigned by Michael Paulson for the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, won 17 of 24 starts and was the all-time leading female earner at the time of her retirement with $4,079,820. She was voted 2002 Horse of the Year and champion older female in 2002-04, and counts grade I victories in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Distaff and three consecutive runnings of the Apple Blossom (from 2002-04), among her scores.
A modern trainer was not inducted into the Hall of Fame this year due to a new voting process implemented by the Hall of Fame committee. The process permitted voters to select up to four horses and individuals listed on the ballot, and the four with the highest number of votes were elected. As a result, neither of the two horsemen among the finalists—Gary Jones and Robert Wheeler—made it in.
Trainers Allen Jerkens, Tommy Kelly (who will turn 91 in September), Jonathan Sheppard, Shug McGaughey, Neil Drysdale, D. Wayne Lukas, Carl Nafzger, Bill Mott, Bob Baffert, LeRoy Jolley, and Nick Zito, and jockeys Pat Day, Earlie Fires, Ron Turcotte, Edgar Prado, Bill Boland, Angel Cordero Jr., and Kent Desormeaux were among the present Hall of Fame members. Also in attendance was Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear.
Former Kentucky Governor Brereton Jones accompanied former first lady of the Commonwealth Libby Jones, the great-grandaughter of breeder A.J. Alexander, who accepted the Hall of Fame induction of historic review committee nominee Harry Bassett, a 19th century Thoroughbred bred by Alexander who won 14 consecutive races at one point in his career.
The other historic review appointees included trainer Michael E “Buster” Millerick and jockey Don Pierce.
The Hall of Fame address was given by former jockey Gary Stevens, a Hall of Fame member since 1997.
“Everybody asks, ‘what does it take to get in the Hall of Fame?’” Stevens said. “Well, it takes greatness—not one particular moment of stardom, but consistency throughout a career—and hard work is the key to it all.”