Letters to the Editor: Saratoga Walk of Fame Misses Mark

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There’s a real Hall of Fame drought at Saratoga this month. No human is being inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame and only one guy is being given a “Red Jacket” the day before the Travers. And “that guy” has almost no history at Saratoga and not a single racing follower would ever even remotely associate him with the track. Who is voting on this stuff? Does actual history even matter in racing anymore?

While Bob Baffert is undeniably one of the most accomplished trainers of all time, virtually none of his signature accomplishments have been at Saratoga. The point of the “red jacket” awards, or so one thought, was to recognize those who have made Saratoga the institution that it is. True, Baffert has shipped in with the occasional Arrogate, Drefong or West Coast to win major Saratoga stakes. But he starts very few horses there and none of his horses’ most important wins came at Saratoga. The only reason to put Baffert in is because he won the Triple Crown this year and there’s free media exposure attached to that. Is that what the red jackets are for?

In the meantime, no jackets are given to multiple Saratoga training champion Todd Pletcher, or Linda Rice, who was the only woman ever to win a training title there, or Braulio Baeza, who won stakes there for decades and worked at the track for many years after that. Also jacket-less are the most accomplished rider of our time, Mike Smith (he of many Saratoga wins), Barry K. Schwartz (the owner who has won so many races there he ought to have his own chair in the winners circle), Julie Krone (whose historic career was shaped in large part by epic Saratoga wins) and Steve Cauthen (who set the town on fire as a teenager). And there’s no red for Leo O’Brien, who somehow got Fourstardave to win one race at the spa eight years in a row.

This is overkill now because the situation is comically absurd, but NYRA hasn’t deigned to give a red jacket or honor on the “Walk of Fame” the incredible Jonathan Sheppard, who won at least one race at Saratoga 47 years in a row. But Sheppard isn’t a glib guy like Baffert, I guess.

In the meantime, the voters at the Hall of Fame across the street couldn’t find a single person worthy of putting in the Hall. Not Richard Hazelton, with his 4700 wins and zero medication violations, or Mark Casse, with his $150 million in earnings over 30 years.

Who votes on all this stuff? Seriously, is there no accountability for making a hash of this sport’s rich history? Saratoga itself is history. But one wouldn’t know it by the decisions of the caretakers of that heritage.

Mark Belling
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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