Dan Liebman: Editor-in-Chief

Dan Liebman: Editor-in-Chief

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Commentary: Hall of a Career

I never met Dale Baird. In fact, I never even saw one of his horses win in person. But in 2005 I voted for him to gain inclusion in racing’s Hall of Fame.

There were not enough other voters who felt he was worthy.

That’s because Baird hadn’t won the Derby. He hadn’t trained any champions. Forget winning a Breeders’ Cup race; Baird hadn’t even had a Breeders’ Cup starter.

But Baird, who was killed in a car wreck Dec. 23 on his way home for Christmas, had done one thing. He’d won more races than any other Thoroughbred trainer in North America. Ever.

At the time of his death, Baird had made 9,445 trips to the winner’s circle, mostly with claiming horses he also owned and raced in West Virginia at the track now known as Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort. When he began, it was known as Waterford Park.

You can’t argue with those who would not vote for Baird. Any Hall of Fame contains greatness, and in racing that means winning grade I races. That was not Dale Baird.

But in addition to purses and graded stakes, there is the business of winning races. In that category, Dale Baird is in a Hall of Fame all his own.

Those 9,445 victories are way more than any other trainer in history, and the man in second must feel like Sham in Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

Only three other trainers have won more than 5,000 races, with Jerry Hollendorfer joining the exclusive club just a day prior to Baird’s death. The others are Jack Van Berg (6,378) and King Leatherbury (6,227), both of whom are still active.

Stop and think about the fact Baird has 3,067 more wins than Van Berg. Then ask yourself how many trainers have sent out more than 3,067 winners in their careers.

Try 20.

The fact is that during every racing year, there are far more trainers that win claiming races than win graded stakes. And maybe we shouldn’t put the leading trainer by wins on a pedestal if most of those wins came with cheap horses. But how is Baird so different from Russell Baze, the all-time leading jockey by wins who has scored the majority of his victories on the smaller Northern California circuit (like Hollendorfer)? Baze did it his own way, riding where he was happy raising his family, yet it kept him out of the Hall for years, until voters deservedly elected him in 1999.

Quick, who are the two winningest coaches in college football history?

Most people will come up with Eddie Robinson, who for 56 years was the head coach at Grambling State University, where he won 408 games. But, he was passed by John Gagliardi, who has posted most of his 453 wins (and counting) during 55 seasons at St. John’s University…and not the St. John’s in Queens.

Robinson, who died in 2007, coached at a historically black university in northern Louisiana; Gagliardi is at a small Catholic university in Collegeville, Minn. Like Baze and Baird, they competed on their own level, and competed well.

Robinson had 45 winning seasons and his teams won or shared 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and eight black college national championships. Gagliardi’s squads have won or shared 28 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles and have captured the division III national title four times.

Baze has led the nation by wins nine times (including 2007) and ridden more than 400 winners 11 times (he had 393 through Dec. 27). Baird led the nation in wins 15 times as a trainer between 1971-99, and has been the leading owner by wins 17 times.

Eddie Robinson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997; in 2006, Gagliardi became the first active coach to be inducted.

Russell Baze has his place in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Dale Baird belongs there as well