Ray Paulick<br>Editor-in-Chief

Ray Paulick

Hall Pass

There have been a number of critics (notably in the media) who have said the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame needed a change in election procedures that each year designated inductees in jockey, trainer, male horse, and female horse categories. They wouldn't name names publicly, but these critics charged that the Hall of Fame was electing too many individuals who simply did not belong.

Suggestions were made for racing to follow in the footsteps of baseball's Hall of Fame, which inducts any candidate receiving votes on 75% of ballots cast. Eligible baseball writers are allowed to vote for as many as 10 baseball players, and in the most recent election there were two inductees--Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg--among the 25 players who received at least one vote from the 516 voters.

Officials at the racing museum decided to make a change and, starting this year, applied a similar procedure requiring a candidate to be named on at least 75% of the ballots. Voters had five choices and could mark up to three names in each division. In Thoroughbred racing, only trainer Nick Zito reached that threshold. No jockeys or horses received enough votes for induction.

While some are applauding the Hall of Fame for tightening its standards, others are bordering on outrage that this year's election is an insult to the owners of the 10 outstanding horses in the two divisions on this year's ballot. It does seem strange that in a sport where there are nearly 70,000 equine competitors a year, not one was good enough to make it into the Hall of Fame. It's enough to give racing an inferiority complex.

No one suggested Pete Rose was the greatest player in baseball history when he delivered his 4,192nd base hit, passing Ty Cobb to become the sport's all-time hit leader.

Rose made his niche as "Charlie Hustle," a switch-hitting singles hitter who, were it not for a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball because of gambling, would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Similarly, no one will say Russell Baze is horse racing's greatest jockey if and when he catches this sport's all-time winningest rider, Laffit Pincay Jr., who retired in 2003 with 9,530 career victories. Baze, 46, scored his 9,000th victory at Golden Gate Fields June 2 and, barring injury, is on pace to catch Pincay late next year or in early 2007.

Baze and Pincay are Hall of Fame riders and deservedly so. Both are a credit to the game. But Baze's chase of Pincay's record will not have the significance or interest of Pincay's 1999 quest to pass Bill Shoemaker, who retired with 8,833 victories.

Pincay and Shoemaker were based in Southern California for most of their careers, competing against a roomful of Hall of Fame jockeys that included Eddie Delahoussaye, Sandy Hawley, Chris McCarron, and Gary Stevens, among others. They were money riders who thrived on grade I races and big purses.

Except for the occasional foray out of town, Baze is content to stay in the friendly confines of Northern California, where grade I races are nonexistent and publicity in the local and national media is even rarer. The native of Vancouver, British Columbia, has a total of three career grade I victories, the most recent coming in 1991 when Devil's Orchid won the Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita Park. He's won a total of 76 graded stakes over his 32-year riding career. By comparison, fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey racked up 99 graded stakes victories in 2002-03.

It's difficult to say how Baze would have stacked up in a more competitive riding colony. Chances are he would have held his own, but it's a safe bet he would not be in hot pursuit of Pincay's all-time record.