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King T. Leatherbury spoke for 10 minutes in his hilarious, yet sincere speech.
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Skip Dickstein

Hall of Fame Induction 2015: All Heart

Class of 2015 welcomed in ceremony Aug. 7 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

With moments that ranged from heart-achingly poignant to knee-slapping hilarious, the newest members of racing's Hall of Fame were inducted in a ceremony at Fasig-Tipton's Humphrey S. Finney sales pavilion Aug. 8 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Retired New York Racing Association track announcer Tom Durkin was the master of ceremonies at the near two-hour induction, which welcomed eight individuals into racing's elite club.

Among the inductees was the late Chris Antley, a brilliantly gifted jockey who suffered from substance abuse, and whose life ended at the age of 34. The year before his death, in 2000, Antley won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) aboard Charismatic.

Antley, who grew up in the small town of Elloree, S.C., was remembered in a most special way, by the people closest to him: his mentor, Franklin Smith; mother, Shelly Antley; and wife; Natalie Jowett Antley.

Smith, who operates the Elloree Trainer Center where Antley crafted his trade, presented the rider's Hall of Fame plaque to his family.

"He was a natural," the soft-spoken Smith said. "To say I taught him how to ride ... you don't teach someone like that to ride; it just comes naturally."

Shelly Antley, gave her thanks to the people in the racing industry, "Who helped him grow in this sport. It means the world to us."

Antley's wife, Natalie, spoke from the heart about "the polarity" of life and its effect on her troubled husband.

"Chris performed feats that may never be achieved again," she said. "That intensity (was seen) in his actions and decisions off the track sometimes. He had such depths that they became tragic.

"The other polarity I want to mention is the opposite of love and fear," she continued. "Fear leads us down to a place where we judge, are angry, and we want to separate ourselves. And love allows us to open to a place where we enjoy and can find acceptance. I want to thank you guys for enshrining Chris in the Hall of Fame. It provides a very profound healing opportunity for our family. We have seen the power of what happens when you push fear aside, and let love win."

The lighter moments of the ceremony came from 82-year-old trainer King T. Leatherbury, who spoke for 10 minutes in his hilarious, yet sincere speech. Leatherbury was introduced by one of his former owners, Glenn Lane, whose extreme affection for the horseman was so pronounced that it moved Lane to tears.

Leatherbury opted not to talk too much about his career, which has yielded more than 6,400 winners (fourth all-time behind Dale Baird, Steve Asmussen, and Jerry Hollendorfer), and instead launched into a comedy routine, which delighted the audience.

"Once I got nominated (to the Hall of Fame), I had people coming up saying, 'You're even-money to get in. But I told them, 'I've run many even-money shots that didn't win.' But, anyhow, they called me up and said, 'You've been voted in.' Naturally I immediately called for a recount."

And the laughs kept coming, even after Leatherbury, who was the last inductee to speak, left the stage.

"Now you know why we had King go last," Durkin told the crowd. "Nobody is going to follow that act."

Levity was also part of owner Harry Deitchman's speech. Deitchman, 91, owned Hall of Fame inductee Xtra Heat in partnership with Ken Taylor, and the filly's trainer, John Salzman Sr.

At the podium, Deitchman unfurled a long piece of paper, indicating the length of his speech would be on the long. He, however, was just having fun with the crowd.

Deitchman drew laughs when he told a story about his grandson, who asked him, 'Pop-Pop, how come every time Xtra Heat wins a race, Mr. Ken gets up there and makes a speech on television, and you never get anything?' I said, "Well, I get the money."

Taylor followed Deitchman, and thanked Salzman, who was not there, for his management of the brilliant sprinter Xtra Heat, who won 25 stakes races.

Steve Kenly, the co-owner of Lava Man, spoke on behalf of the partnership group that campaigned the amazing gelding, a former claimer, who went on to win more than $5.2 million and traveled the world. Lava Man is currently a lead pony in the stable of his trainer Doug O'Neill. He accompanied 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another  in the post parades of those races.

"We're from the West Coast, and this is our first visit to Saratoga. This is pretty eye-opening," Kenly said. "In California (Lava Man) was really the king. There is a lot of blue blood here today; I guess he was blue collar. It was an amazing experience he took us on. Hat's off to (Lava Man) for bringing us all together."

Earlier in the ceremony, the Hall of Fame recognized Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and John Hay Whitney as Pillars of the Turf. Vanderbilit's son, Alfred III, was eloquent in recalling his father's passion for racing.

"(Racing) was his slice of heaven," Vanderbilt III said.

Whitney's grandson, Peter di Bonaventura, said his grandfather's "beloved Greentree Stable" was one of his biggest loves.

Two members inducted under the historic component of the Hall of Fame were Billy Kelly, a winner of 14 races as a 2-year-old; and champion flat and steeplechase jockey-turned trainer, Vincent Powers.

Ceremony attendees  also were treated to well-done video presentations, covering the achievements of each inductee.

The number of returning Hall of Famers in attendance was strong. Introduced by Edward L. Bowen, the chairman of the Hall of Fame committee, the following members rose and stood in front of the audience when called: Jerry Bailey, Eddie Maple, LeRoy Jolley, Edgar Prado, Jacinto Vasquez, Jerry Fishback, Braulio Baeza, Chris McCarron, John Velazquez, Jonathan Sheppard, Janet Ellliot, Manny Ycaza, Bobby Ussery, Nick Zito, Pat Day, and Angel Cordero Jr.

When Bowen asked the crowd, "What do you say to this collective greatness?" the returning members were given a standing ovation, accompanied by thunderous applause.