Champions Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, two of the most heralded distaffers to ever grace Thoroughbred racing, are among 10 finalists for induction into the National Museum of Racing’s 2016 Hall of Fame class. Both are expected to be overwhelming picks in their first year of eligibility.
Four jockeys, four Thoroughbreds and two trainers comprise the 10 finalists as selected by the museum’s Hall of Fame nominating committee. English Channel, the champion turf male of 2007, and Kona Gold, champion sprinter of 2000, join Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta as Thoroughbred finalists.
Jockeys Ramon Dominguez, Victor Espinoza, Garrett Gomez and Craig Perret, and trainers Steve Asmussen and David Whiteley comprise the rest of the finalists.
A maximum of four candidates with the highest vote totals — provided they receive majority approval (50.1 percent) of the voting panel — will be elected. If fewer than than four candidates receive “yes” votes from a majority of voters, only they will be inducted in 2016. Results of the voting will be announced April 25. The induction ceremony will be Aug. 12 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Asmussen, who ranks second all time in career wins (7,246 through March 8) and fourth in earnings ($237,473,515), was a finalist in 2014 but was removed from the ballot when the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and New York State Gaming Commission launched investigations into allegations by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that the group had evidence of Asmussen mistreating horses in his care.
Asmussen was cleared by the Kentucky commission in January 2015 when the commission announced it found no evidence of rule violations. The New York State Gaming Commission ruled in November that the most serious allegations were “unfounded,” but it did fine Asmussen for the use of synthetic thyroxine on horses.
Asmussen’s inclusion on the ballot this season means he could walk into the Hall alongside one of his most outstanding charges. Asmussen, who also trained Hall of Famer Curlin, took over the conditioning of Rachel Alexandra from Hal Wiggins following her 20¼-length win in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks, after she was sold by owner/breeder Dolphus Morrison to Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick.
Under Asmussen’s care for the final nine starts of her career, Rachel Alexandra defeated male rivals three times during her 3-year-old season. She became the first filly since 1924 to win the Preakness Stakes and later added a win in the Grade I Haskell Invitational before becoming the first sophomore filly to top older males in the Grade I Woodward Stakes in September 2009. Her Woodward win capped a season in which Rachel Alexandra won all eight of her starts, a campaign that was superior enough to have her defeat the great Zenyatta for Horse of the Year honors in 2009.
Rachel Alexandra retired with 13 wins from 19 starts and $3,506,730 in earnings.
Zenyatta went on to take Horse of the Year honors in 2010, having been a finalist for that trophy the previous two seasons. The massive daughter of Street Cry transcended the sport with her famed, late-running kick and charismatic personality — not to mention a career record that was flawless until her final race.
Trained by John Shirreffs and owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Zenyatta won the first 19 starts of her career, including three straight editions of the Grade I Lady’s Secret and Grade I Vanity Handicap, and became the first and only female horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in 2009.
Her lone defeat came in her career swansong in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, when she fell a head short of champion Blame beneath the lights at Churchill Downs. Despite the loss, Zenyatta was named Horse of the Year and earned her third straight Eclipse Award for champion older female.
Zenyatta concluded her career with 19 wins from 20 starts and $7,304,580 in earnings.
To be eligible for the Hall of Fame, trainers must have been licensed for 25 years, while jockeys must have been licensed for 20 years. Thoroughbreds are required to be retired for five calendar years before becoming eligible. Dominguez, who rode from 1996 through 2013 before suffering a career-ending injury, had the 20-year requirement waived by the executive committee.
Dominguez won 4,985 races (23 percent) and $191,620,277 during his career and won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He led all North American riders in earnings each of those years, setting a record of $25,639,432 in 2012.
Espinoza put the ultimate stamp on his résumé last year when he guided American Pharoah to the first Triple Crown sweep in 37 years. Espinoza has seven victories in the Triple Crown series, including five in the past two years aboard American Pharoah and 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome.
Gomez rode from 1988 through 2013 and won 3,769 races (17 percent) and $205,224,899. The Eclipse Award winner in 2007 and 2008, Gomez led all North American riders in earnings in from 2006 through 2009. In 2007, he set a single-year record with 76 stakes wins.
Perret won 4,415 races and had purse earnings of $113,837,299 in a career that spanned 1967 through 2005. He was North America’s leading apprentice jockey in earnings in 1967 and won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 1990.
Whiteley, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Frank Whiteley Jr., trained the champions Revidere, Waya and Just a Game, and won 678 races in a career that spanned 1970 through 1995. He won more than 33 percent of his starts (678 of 2,068) and had purse earnings of $11,837,823.
2016 Hall of Fame finalists
Thoroughbreds: English Channel, Kona Gold, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta
Trainers: Steve Asmussen, David Whiteley
Jockeys: Ramon Dominguez, Victor Espinoza, Garrett Gomez, Craig Perret