Six racehorses, three trainers and one jockey account for the 10 finalists that will compose the National Museum of Racing's 2021 Hall of Fame ballot, as chosen by the museum's Hall of Fame nominating committee. The finalists are racehorses American Pharoah (first year of eligibility), Blind Luck, Game On Dude, Havre de Grace, Kona Gold and Rags to Riches; trainers Christophe Clement, Doug O'Neill and Todd Pletcher (first year of eligibility); and jockey Corey Nakatani.
Ballots will be mailed the first week in March and results of the voting will be announced May 5. That announcement will also include this year's selections by the Museum's Steeplechase Review Committee, which meets once every four years.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony–which will honor both the 2020 and 2021 inductees—is tentatively scheduled for Friday, Aug. 6, at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at 10:30 a.m. ET. Because of the ongoing COVID pandemic, many details relating to the induction ceremony are still to be determined.
Bred in Kentucky by owner Zayat Stables, American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile–Littleprincessemma, by Yankee Gentleman), became racing's first Triple Crown winner in 37 years when he swept the GI Kentucky Derby, GI Preakness S. and GI Belmont S. in 2015 en route to Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male. Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza, the bay previously won the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male in 2014. At three, he also won the GI Breeders' Cup Classic. Overall, the bay posted a record of nine wins from 11 starts and earnings $8,650,300.
Bred in Kentucky by Fairlawn Farm, Blind Luck (Pollard's Vision–Lucky One, by Best of Luck) won the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly in 2010. A multiple Grade I winner at ages two through four, Blind Luck was trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Hollendorfer in partnership with Mark DeDomenico LLC, John Carver, and Peter Abruzzo. Blind Luck, who retired with 12 wins and earnings of $3,279,520, won 10 graded stakes, including six Grade Is–Kentucky Oaks, Oak Leaf S., Hollywood Starlet S., Las Virgenes S., Alabama S. and Vanity H.
Game On Dude (Awesome Again–Worldly Pleasure, by Devil His Due), bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs, won 14 graded stakes, including eight Grade Is. Owned by Joe Torre's Diamond Pride LLC, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable LLC, and Bernie Schiappa, the gelding was trained by Baffert. He is the only horse to win the GI Santa Anita H. three times (2011, 2013, 2014). In 2013, Game On Dude swept the three signature Grade I races for older horses in California–Santa Anita H., Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic–becoming only the second horse to win those three events in a single year. He compiled a record of 16 wins from 34 starts and earnings of $6,498,893.
Havre de Grace (Saint Liam–Easter Brunette, by Carson City) won the Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year and champion older mare in 2011. Bred in Kentucky by Nancy S. Dillman, the bay was trained by Anthony Dutrow at ages 2 and 3 and later by Larry Jones. Campaigned by Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms throughout her career, she beat Blind Luck in the 2011 GIII Azeri S. before wins in the GI Apple Blossom S., GI Woodward S. and GI BeldameS. Havre de Grace retired with nine wins and earnings of $2,586,175.
Bred in Kentucky by Carlos Perez, Kona Gold (Java Gold– Double Sunrise, by Slew o' Gold) won the Eclipse Award for Champion Sprinter in 2000, when he set a six-furlong track record at Churchill Downs in his GI Breeders' Cup Sprint victory. Campaigned by Bruce Headley (who also served as his trainer), Irwin and Andrew Molasky, Michael Singh et al, the gelding raced from 1998 through 2003 with a record of 14-7-2 from 30 starts and earnings of $2,293,384. He won a total of 10 graded stakes, including the GI San Carlos H., all while ridden by Hall of Famer Alex Solis.
Rags to Riches (A.P. Indy–Better Than Honour, by Deputy Minister) won the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly in 2007, a campaign highlighted by a victory in the GI Belmont S. Trained by Pletcher for owners Michael B. Tabor and Derrick Smith, the chestnut filly recorded four Grade I wins–Las Virgenes S. and GI Santa Anita Oaks, GI Kentucky Oaks and GI Belmont S., defeating two-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Curlin. Rags to Riches remains one of only three fillies to win the Belmont. Bred in Kentucky by Skara Glen Stables, she retired with a record of five wins from seven starts and earnings of $1,342,528.
Pletcher, 53, has won 5,072 races (eighth all-time) with record North American purse earnings of $400,647,175 in a career that began in 1996. A winner of a record seven Eclipse Awards for outstanding trainer, Pletcher has won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017) and the Belmont S. with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013) and Tapwrit (2017). Pletcher ranks fourth all-time at the Breeders' Cup in earnings ($21,508,030) and fifth in wins (11) and has won 699 graded stakes. Pletcher, who has led all North American trainers in earnings 10 times, has trained 11 Eclipse Award-winners, including Hall of Famer Ashado, English Channel, Fleet Indian, Lawyer Ron, Left Bank, Rags to Riches, Shanghai Bobby, Speightstown, Wait a While, Uncle Mo and Vino Rosso. Pletcher has won 16 leading trainer titles at Belmont, 14 at Saratoga and six at Aqueduct. He has also won 16 titles at Gulfstream, five at Keeneland and two at Monmouth.
Clement, 55, has won 2,094 races to date with purse earnings of more than $139 million (12th all time) in a career that began in 1991. Clement trained three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti, winner of four straight Grade Is on the turf in 2009, as well as 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist, who also won consecutive renewals of the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2014 and 2015. Clement has won 248 graded stakes, including multiple editions of the Beverly D., Del Mar Oaks, Diana, Manhattan, Man o' War, Shadwell Turf Mile and Sword Dancer, among others.
O'Neill, 52, has won 2,552 races to date with purse earnings of more than $138 million (13th all-time) in a career that began in 1988. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012 with I'll Have Another and a second Derby in 2016 with Nyquist. O'Neill has trained five Eclipse Award winners–I'll Have Another, Maryfield, Nyquist, Stevie Wonderboy and Thor's Echo–and has won five Breeders' Cup races. Trainer of Hall of Fame member Lava Man, he won five training titles at Del Mar and four titles at Santa Anita, including a record 56-win meet in the winter of 2006-2007, and ranks eighth all time there with 619 wins. Overall, O'Neill has won 132 graded stakes.
Nakatani, 50, won 3,909 races with purse earnings of $234,554,534 million in a career that spanned from 1988 to 2018. He ranks 13th all-time in career earnings and won 341 graded stakes. Nakatani won 10 Breeders' Cup races (one of only 10 riders to do so), including four editions of the Sprint. He won three riding titles at Del Mar, two at Santa Anita and one at Hollywood Park, as well as four Oak Tree meetings. The regular pilot of Lava Man, he ranks eighth all time in stakes wins at Santa Anita (behind seven Hall of Famers) with 134 and ninth in overall wins at Santa Anita with 1,075. He also stands second all time at Del Mar with 108 stakes wins (behind only Hall of Famer Chris McCarron and sixth in overall wins with 705.
Hall of Fame voters may select as many or as few candidates as they believe are worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame. All candidates that receive 50% plus one vote (majority approval) from the voting panel will be elected to the Hall of Fame. All of the finalists were required to receive support from two-thirds of the 15-member Nominating Committee to qualify for the ballot.
Chaired by Edward L. Bowen, the Hall of Fame nominating committee is composed of Bowen, Steven Crist, Tom Durkin, Bob Ehalt, Tracy Gantz, Teresa Genaro, Jane Goldstein, Steve Haskin, Jay Hovdey, Tom Law, Neil Milbert, Jay Privman, John Sparkman, Michael Veitch and Charlotte Weber.
To be eligible for the Hall of Fame, trainers must be licensed for 25 years, while jockeys must be licensed for 20 years. Thoroughbreds are required to be retired for five calendar years. All candidates must have been active in the past 25 years. The 20- and 25-year requirements for jockeys and trainers, respectively, may be waived at the discretion of the museum's executive committee. Candidates not active within the past 25 years are eligible through the Historic Review process.