Voters to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame confirmed two of the easiest selections they’ll ever face when they selected Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher to the 2021 Hall of Fame class.
American Pharoah and Pletcher earned election in the contemporary category in their first year of eligibility. Joining them in the Class of 2021 is 13-time steeplechase champion trainer Jack Fisher. He earned selection through the Museum’s Steeplechase Review Committee. That committee meets once every four years.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shelved last year’s enshrinement, the Class of 2021 and Class of 2020 enter as a pair. The ceremony will be held on Friday, Aug. 6 in Saratoga Springs, New York. It will broadcast live over the Museum’s website. Also going into the Class of 2020 are trainer Mark Casse, jockey Darrel McHargue, horses Tom Bowling and Wise Dan, and Pillars of the Turf Alice Headley Chandler, J. Keene Daingerfield Jr., and George D. Widener Jr.
That the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and one of the dominant 21st-century trainers were on the ballot together made life easy for Hall of Fame voters. It’s not often two slam-dunks find themselves on the ballot at the same time in their first year of eligibility.
American Pharoah saved the Triple Crown
According to Santa Anita Park morning-line author and Xpressbet columnist Jon White, American Pharoah arrived just in time to save the Triple Crown as we know it. Because of the nearly two-generation drought since Affirmed won the 1978 Triple Crown, there were growing rumblings to change the series’ format. It was, some argued, too hard to win three demanding races over six weeks in today’s pampered Thoroughbred environment.
Then, American Pharoah came out of Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita Park barn in the fall of 2014. Even after being scratched from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita with a minor foot injury that November, the Pioneerof the Nile colt earned the Eclipse Award as Champion 2-Year-Old Male. That, courtesy of wins in the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner Stakes – a Santa Anita race now named after American Pharoah.
His 3-year-old season was one for the ages. Baffert shipped him and jockey Victor Espinoza to Arkansas for his Derby preps. American Pharoah responded by winning the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. That set the table for his victories in the Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, making him the 12th Triple Crown winner.
The one and only Hall member of a truly elite club
From there, American Pharoah won the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park before Keen Ice upset him in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga a month later. American Pharoah rebounded nine weeks later, winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in a track-record 2:00.07 for 1 ¼ miles. He became the first – and thus far only – horse to win the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“He’s certainly among the all-time greats. I don’t think there is any question about that,” Baffert said in a statement. “He did everything so effortlessly and with such class. The way he moved, his mechanics were absolutely flawless. … Winning the Triple Crown with American Pharoah was the greatest sports moment of my life. It was so emotional and such a terrific thing for racing.”
Pletcher’s Hall of Fame training record is nothing short of terrific. Since breaking off from his mentor, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas in 1995, Pletcher racked up 5,118 victories and $405,791,977 in career earnings. His victories rank seventh all-time and his earnings top all trainers. So do his seven Eclipse Awards as Champion Trainer.
Pletcher dominant up and down the Eastern Seaboard
Speaking of Eclipse Awards, Pletcher trained 11 Eclipse Award-winning horses. He owns 60 individual meet training titles, showing dominance at most of the major Eastern US tracks. Pletcher captured 17 Gulfstream titles, 16 Belmont Park crowns, 14 at Saratoga, six at Aqueduct, five at Keeneland, and two at Monmouth.
The 53-year-old Dallas native’s name is all over most of North America’s major races. He won two Kentucky Derbies with Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017). He won three Belmont Stakes, with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), and Tapwrit (2017). Last weekend, Pletcher won his fourth Kentucky Oaks crown with Malathaat. His 11 Breeders’ Cup victories include Vino Rosso capturing the 2019 Classic.
Those are an elite handful of the 708 graded stakes and 166 Grade 1 races on Pletcher’s resume. He led North American trainers in earnings 10 times.
“Training horses is all I ever wanted to do. I remember being 11 or 12 and telling my mom I wanted to train and she said it was wonderful,” Pletcher said. “From that point on, with her endorsement, I never thought of doing anything else.”
Fisher found his catch in steeplechases
Fisher won his first race as a steeplechase trainer in 1988 in Virginia, jumping to the front row of steeplechase conditioners in short order. He led all steeplechase trainers in wins 13 times since 2003 and in earnings eight times since 2004.
He placed in the top-five in both National Steeplechase Association wins and earnings in each of the last 20 years. Fisher remains the only trainer in steeplechase history to top $1 million in purse earnings in a single year. He’s done that five times. Two of Fisher’s horses, Scorpiancer (2017) and Moscato (2020), captured Eclipse Awards.
Fisher’s resume includes two Grand National wins, six Temple Gwathmey titles, four A.P. Smithwicks, and three Lonesome Glories – steeplechase’s major races.