By Marie Kizenko
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame inducted its 2017 class Aug. 4 in front of a full house at Fasig-Tipton's Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Three-time Breeders' Cup Mile (G1T) winner Goldikova was the lone contemporary equine inducted this year, alongside riders Garrett Gomez, Javier Castellano, and Victor Espinoza.
The crowd gave a rousing ovation for the master of ceremonies, Tom Durkin, who said, "I used to call races for a living, and now I'm a tour guide."
Gomez, a dual Eclipse Award winner who piloted 13 Breeders' Cup winners, died in 2016. His father, Louie Gomez, and daughter Amanda accepted on his behalf.
"This is a little hard. Thank all of you for bringing this moment to life," said an emotional Louie Gomez. "It was the one thing that he wanted to achieve. He was born to be a racetracker. He was quite a little handful. He didn't know much except for horses. Thank you all, his peers. There's nothing greater that he wanted."
Victor Espinoza, who piloted American Pharoah in the 2015 Triple Crown in addition to classic wins aboard California Chrome and War Emblem, was introduced by New York Racing Association's Martin Panza. The native of Mexico spoke at length about his early years in the sport.
"I won my first race and thought it was easy—break out of the gate and go to the lead," he recalled. "It took me two or three months to win another one. When I moved to San Francisco, I didn't speak English but it was not bad. If I win, I don't have to explain to the trainer why I lost."
Espinoza also showed humor in referencing the lone defeat of American Pharoah's 2015 season, which came in the Travers Stakes (G1).
"I've been to Saratoga and had nothing but bad memories, but now I finally have a good memory," he said.
The class of 2017 was completed by Castellano, who was introduced by fellow Hall of Fame jockeys John Velazquez and Ramon Dominguez. Born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Castellano has won the last four Eclipse Awards as the top jockey in the U.S.
"I'm blessed to ride the best horses for the top trainers all over the country," Castellano said. "I appreciate each and every opportunity. I could not be here without you. Thanks to my family (and) my wife, who always supports me. It's easy when everything is going well, but sometimes you have a tough day."
"I dedicate this award to my country—a lot of tough moments and struggle in Venezuela," he said. "How blessed I am and how honored I am. This game will go through a lot of change, but every person in this room has the same aspiration—the love of horses. Be loyal to the sport and it will benefit us."
The Hall of Fame also recognized John R. Gaines, Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, and Col. Martin J. "Matt" Winn for the Pillars of the Turf category, which was established in 2013 to recognize those "who have made extraordinary contributions to Thoroughbred racing in a leadership or pioneering capacity at the highest national level."
Thomas Gaines accepted the honor on behalf of his late father, John R. Gaines. The elder Gaines—founder of Gainesway Farm—was the driving force for the creation of the Breeders' Cup and was also instrumental in the founding of the Kentucky Horse Park.
"Much has been recounted over the years about the difficulties and challenges my father faced in gaining industry-wide acceptance for his idea about the Breeders' Cup," Thomas Gaines said. "I've grown to believe that the best ideas, with the power to transform, are often met with widespread resistance, at least when they are first introduced. But the story as it now stands has a very happy ending. We have been blessed to have witnessed the very best that sport, in the broadest sense of the word, has to offer.
"Everyone has a favorite memory, a favorite horse, a favorite finish from a Breeders' Cup race seared into our individual and collective memory. It is heartening to think that these memories will continue to gather for generations to come as long as men and women are driven to prove that they have the best horse."
Ogden Phipps II came forward next to speak about his late father, who served as chairman of The Jockey Club for decades and campaigned several champions in his own name.
"It's an exceptional honor and I know he'd be very proud," Ogden Phipps II said. "In keeping with my father's traditions, I think he'd rather deflect praise and instead give thanks to others. In saying 'thank you' for honoring my father's career in horse racing, it's impossible not to mention the man (Shug McGaughey) who was predominantly responsible for his success. Shug, you stood up here 13 years ago today, and so graciously said you wouldn't have gotten here if it wasn't for our family. Well, I want you to know that dad wouldn't have gotten here today without you.
"It's been a partnership and, more importantly, a friendship over three decades between our two families. I also want to recognize your team, many of whom have been with you for over 20 years—your assistants, exercise riders, grooms, and hotwalkers. They've all played an enormous role."
Ogden Phipps II went on to recognize Walker Hancock and Claiborne Farm, which has boarded the Phipps family's broodmares for generations. He concluded his remarks by honoring his mother, Andrea Phipps.
Durkin termed Col. Matt Winn as "the greatest innovator in the history of racing," and introduced great-grandson Richard Herrmann to accept the award on behalf of the Louisville legend who established the Kentucky Derby as the nation's premier event.
"Our sincere thanks to Churchill Downs and the great group that came up today," Hermann said. "They've done a great job nurturing the Kentucky Derby, which Col. Winn had such high hopes for and high standards for, and making it the world's greatest horse race. We have a good group of Col. Winn's descendants here. In industry terms he'd be a pretty good sire. He had 10 children, one son, and nine daughters."
The Steeplechase Review Hall of Fame honored new members Good Night Shirt, a millionaire and two-time Eclipse Award winner; and Thomas H. Voss, the standout trainer who passed away in 2014.
The connections of Goldikova, owners Alain and Gerard Wertheimer and trainer Freddy Head, were unable to attend the ceremony.