With celebration and nostalgia, the 2014 Hall of Fame class that began tinged with controversy was inducted Aug. 8 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in a ceremony that honored two equine champions, Ashado and Curlin .
"My husband, Jess Jackson, loved this horse," said Stonestreet Farm's Barbara Banke of Curlin, a two-time Horse of the Year inducted in his first year of eligibility. Bred by Fares Farm out of the Deputy Minister mare Sherriff's Deputy, the son of Smart Strike won the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (gr. I) twice, and the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) while setting a record for North American earnings.
He retired having won nine graded stakes, including seven group or grade I events.
Curlin began in the barn of Helen Pitts but was trained for all but one of his starts by Steve Asmussen, himself initially named a finalist for the 2014 Hall of Fame. Following the release of an undercover video by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals focusing on Asmussen's assistant Scott Blasi, Asmussen was removed from the ballot by the National Museum of Racing's Members Committee.
While the ceremony's tribute video didn't mention Asmussen, he was among those Banke thanked, in addition to Blasi and Pitts.
"I attribute my perhaps unhealthy obsession with horse racing to the success of Curlin on the racetrack," she said, remarking that earlier in the day she'd been on the backstretch to see Jess's Dream, Curlin's colt out of Rachel Alexandra.
"It is a sport for dreamers," she said. "Jess was a dreamer, I'm a dreamer. If you're not a dreamer, you don't belong in this sport."
An emotional Paul Saylor joined his partners Johns Martin and Jack Wolf to accept on behalf of Ashado, the two-time Eclipse Award winner. A daughter of Saint Ballado bred in Kentucky by Aaron and Marie Jones out of the Mari's Book mare Goulash, Ashado was purchased by Wolf's Starlight Stables for $170,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale in 2002.
Choking up, Saylor talked about his daughter Olivia, who died in a fire at age 21 in 2011.
"Ashado gave us all a number of thrills," said Saylor, "perhaps none more so than the Breeders' Cup at Lone Star (Park). I think yelling the loudest that day was Olivia."
Olivia loved everyone associated with the mare, Saylor said: the other owners, the grooms, the jockeys, and exercise riders.
"But most of all," he said, "she loved the horse she named Ashado, so this is truly special."
Also overcome with emotion was inductee jockey Alex Solis. Nine wins away from 5,000 in his career, Solis, 50, ranks 10th all time in purse earnings with $235,607,826 and 29th in wins. The native of Panama City, Panama has won three Breeders' Cup races and the 1986 Preakness with champion Snow Chief. His most recent grade I win came aboard Sweet Reason in last year's Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Solis was presented by jockeys Chris McCarron and Laffit Pincay Jr., Hall of Fame members themselves, who praised Solis' talent and his character.
"I admire his work ethic, I admire his dedication, and I admire the way Alex rides and conducts himself," said McCarron. "It's a privilege and an honor for me to call him a friend."
Pincay Jr. said Solis' induction is "an honor he's had coming for a long time, for his dedication and contributions to horse racing."
Fighting back tears, Solis said that he never dreamed that he'd be inducted into the Hall of Fame, then lightened the mood by thanking God for making him "this size."
"If I'd been a little taller," he joked, "Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan would have been in trouble."
With his brother in the crowd waving the Panamanian flag, Solis said that he'd left his native country with $700.
"And here I am today with all of you," he said, "living something that only you dream can happen."
McCarron also presented trainer Gary Jones, who retired in 1996 with 1,465 victories and purse earnings of $52,672,611 in a career that began in 1975. The trainer of Turkoman, the 1986 champion older male, and Hall of Famer Best Pal, the California native won 102 graded stakes and15 Southern California meet titles. In 1976, he broke his father Farrell's single-season record when he won 47 races at Santa Anita Park.
Emphasizing the collective effort that racing success requires, Jones remarked on the coverage Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness winner California Chrome's groom Raul Rodriguez got during this year's Triple Chrome. He declared, "Every groom of every horse that all you rich people own deserves that kind of accreditation."
He also thanked Rafael Becerra, his long-time foreman.
"If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be here," he said. "He made my career."
The second class in the Pillars of the Turf category was comprised of Edward R. Bradley and Edward P. Taylor. The category honors those who have made extraordinary contributions to Thoroughbred as a national leader or pioneer.
Bradley owned four Kentucky Derby winners and in 1906 established Idle Hour Stock Farm near Lexington, where he bred 128 stakes winners and 15 champions. In 1926, he purchased Fair Grounds Race Course, and he was also an investor in Hialeah Park.
Like Bradley, Taylor was instrumental in racetrack development, establishing Woodbine near Toronto in 1956. At his Windfields Farm, he bred Northern Dancer and 53 other champions including Storm Bird, the sire of Storm Cat. The Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Breeder in 1977 and 1983, Taylor bred 18 winners of the Queen's Plate.
This year's historical inductees were Clifford, who won 11 consecutive races in five weeks at Hawthorne Race Course, and the jockey Lloyd Hughes. Racing from 1892 to 1897, Clifford counted among his victories the Phoenix Handicap, Latonia Spring Prize, Melrose Handicap, Forest Handicap, and Special Sweepstakes. He was retired to Hurricana Farm near Saratoga, the breeding operation of John Sanford, for whom the Sanford Stakes is named.
Born in Wales, Hughes (1857-1925) was the first jockey to win the Preakness three times. He also won multiple editions of the Belmont, the Travers, the Jerome, and the Saratoga Stakes, and four consecutive editions of the Dixie Handicap (1878-1881).
An unofficial honoree at the Hall of Fame ceremony was master of ceremonies Tom Durkin, retiring as the race caller of the New York Racing Association Aug. 31. A tribute video was shown at the beginning of the ceremony, and Saylor invoked Durkin's call of Ashado's 2004 Distaff win.
"His flair for theater and wit just keeps him head and shoulders above anyone else who's ever done this," said Saylor, turning to Durkin. "I don't know what we're going to do without you."