Six racehorses, three trainers, and one jockey account for the 10 finalists that will comprise 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, Blind Luck, Game On Dude, Havre de Grace, Kona Gold, and Rags to Riches; trainers Christophe Clement, Doug O'Neill, and Todd Pletcher; and jockey Corey Nakatani.
American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner, and Todd Pletcher, a seven-time Eclipse Award winner, became finalists in their first year of eligibility.
Hall of Fame voters may select as many or as few candidates they believe warrant induction. All candidates that receive majority approval (one vote over 50%) from the voting panel will be elected. All of the finalists were required to receive support from two-thirds of the 15-member Nominating Committee to qualify as finalists.
Ballots will be mailed to the Hall of Fame voting panel the first week in March and the results of voting on the contemporary candidates 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 Aug. 6 at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at 10:30 a.m. ET. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many details relating to the induction ceremony are still to be determined.
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 within 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.
A bay colt 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 in 2015 en route to Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and ridden by Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah posted a record of 9-1-0 from 11 starts and earned $8,650,300. He closed out his career with a memorable win in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Classic.
Pletcher, 53, born in Dallas, 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. He has won the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017). He is also a three-time winner of the Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), and Tapwrit (2017).
He 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 has led all North American trainers in earnings 10 times, training 11 Eclipse Award-winning horses. At his principal base on the New York Racing Association circuit, Pletcher has won 16 leading trainer titles at Belmont Park, 14 at Saratoga Race Course, and six at Aqueduct Racetrack. He has won 16 titles at Gulfstream Park, five at Keeneland, and two at Monmouth Park.
He trained fellow finalist Rags to Riches for much of her career. She was voted the champion 3-year-old filly of 2007 after becoming the historic winner of the Belmont Stakes over males that year for owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
Finalists Blind Luck, Havre de Grace, and Kona Gold were also champions. Blind Luck won the Eclipse Award as outstanding 3-year-old filly of 2010; Havre de Grace won Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year and champion older mare in 2011; and Kona Gold was awarded the Eclipse Award for champion sprinter in 2000.
Game On Dude won 14 graded stakes, including eight grade 1s, and is the only horse to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap three times, doing so in 2011 and in 2013-14.
Clement, 55, has won 2,094 races with purse earnings of more than $139 million (12th all-time) in a career that began in 1991. He trained three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti, winner of four straight grade 1s on the turf in 2009, as well as 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, who also won consecutive runnings of the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2014-15. Clement has won 248 graded stakes.
A native of Paris, France, Clement began his domestic career by winning with the first horse he saddled, Spectaculaire, on Oct. 20, 1991, at Belmont. He has since trained 18 horses that have earned $1 million or more.
O'Neill, 52, has won 2,552 races with purse earnings of more than $138 million (13th all-time) in a career that began in 1988. He won the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2012 with I'll Have Another and added 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.
The native of Dearborn, Mich., has won five training titles at Del Mar, where in 2015 he became the first trainer to ever win five races on a card there. He has also won four training titles at Santa Anita, including a record 56-win meet in the winter and spring of 2006-07, and ranks eighth all-time there with 619 wins. He has trained 11 horses that have earned $1 million or more.
Nakatani, 50, won 3,909 races with purse earnings of $234,554,534 in a career that spanned from 1988-2018. 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 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint. He won three riding titles at Del Mar, two at Santa Anita Park, and one at Hollywood Park, as well as four Oak Tree meetings.
A native of Covina, Calif., Nakatani won six grade 1s with Hall of Famer Lava Man, whose success largely came under O'Neill's training. Nakatani also won multiple stakes with Hall of Famer Serena's Song, as well as Eclipse Award winners Shared Belief and Sweet Catomine.
Nakatani ranks eighth all-time in stakes wins at Santa Anita behind seven Hall of Famers with 134 and ninth in overall wins there with 1,075. He also stands second all-time at Del Mar with 108 stakes wins behind only Hall of Famer Chris McCarron.
Chaired by Edward Bowen, the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee is comprised 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.