Six first-time finalists – jockeys Victor Espinoza and Corey Nakatani, trainers King Leatherbury and David Whiteley, and the accomplished racehorses Black Tie Affair and Lava Man – are among the 10 people and horses who have made the ballot for this year’s Hall of Fame class, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame announced on Monday.
The other finalists are jockeys Chris Antley and Craig Perret and the outstanding sprinters Kona Gold and Xtra Heat, all of whom have made the final ballot before but have fallen short of being voted into the Hall of Fame.
The 10 finalists were chosen by 14 members of the Hall of Fame’s Nominating Committee, which was not allowed to consider trainer Steve Asmussen, per instructions from the Hall of Fame’s Executive Committee, citing that a nearly yearlong investigation into Asmussen by the New York State Gaming Commission has yet to be completed.
Asmussen was one of the 10 original finalists last year, but the Hall of Fame tabled his nomination after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video in concert with The New York Times alleging that Asmussen mistreated horses.
Authorities in both Kentucky and New York – where incidents contained in the video allegedly were taped – launched investigations. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission completed its investigation in January and brought no charges against Asmussen while offering a detailed indictment of the presentation of the PETA video.
Of the 10 finalists, the four who receive the most votes from the Hall’s 183-member voting panel will be this year’s induction class. Voters can select any combination of horses, jockeys, and trainers.
The four inductees will be announced April 20. The induction ceremonies are scheduled for Aug. 7 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where the Hall of Fame is located.
Espinoza, 42, won the Kentucky Derby for the second time last year with California Chrome, who went on to be named Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male. Espinoza also won the Derby in 2002 with War Emblem. Espinoza also won the Preakness Stakes with both California Chrome and War Emblem. He has won two Breeders’ Cup races, including last year’s Juvenile Fillies with eventual champion Take Charge Brandi. His other stakes wins include the Hollywood Gold Cup, Arlington Million, Wood Memorial, and Pimlico Special. Espinoza has won 3,192 races.
Like Espinoza, Nakatani, 44, has spent most of his career in Southern California, where he has won the bulk of his 3,770 career races, including three editions of the Santa Anita Handicap and two runnings of the Hollywood Gold Cup. He has twice won the Kentucky Oaks and owns 10 Breeders’ Cup victories. His other major wins include the Coaching Club American Oaks, Dubai Golden Shaheen, two runnings of the Beverly D., and five victories in the Eddie Read.
Leatherbury, 81, has won 6,449 races to rank fourth all time among trainers. He rose to prominence when Maryland racing was at its peak, doing daily battle with such outstanding horsemen as Bud Delp – who is now in the Hall of Fame – Richard Dutrow Sr. and John Tammaro Jr. He has won multiple training titles at Pimlico, Laurel, and Delaware Park. His best horses have been Grade 1 winners Catatonic and Taking Risks. His current stable star is the multiple stakes winner Ben’s Cat.
Whiteley, 70, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Frank Whiteley, retired in 1995 following a career perhaps best known for stopping Spectacular Bid’s Triple Crown bid with Coastal in the 1979 Belmont Stakes. He trained Eclipse Award winners Just A Game, Revidere, and Waya and won major races like the Coaching Club American Oaks, Haskell, Beldame, Remsen, Wood Memorial, Brooklyn, Marlboro Cup, and two runnings each of the San Juan Capistrano Handicap and Sword Dancer. He won 678 races while never maintaining the large stable common today.
Black Tie Affair was the Horse of the Year and champion older male of 1991, when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the final start of a career that saw him win 18 of 45 starts over four seasons. He was versatile enough to run twice in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in the two years prior to 1991. He was owned by Jeffrey Sullivan and trained by Ernie Poulos. He died in 2010 at Old Friends Farm in Kentucky.
Lava Man won 17 of 47 starts and rose to prominence after being claimed by a partnership and moved to trainer Doug O’Neill. He became a stalwart on the West Coast, where he won three runnings of the Hollywood Gold Cup, matching the feat of Hall of Famer Native Diver. His seven Grade 1 wins also included two runnings of the Santa Anita Handicap, Del Mar’s Pacific Classic, and, on turf, the Whittingham Memorial. He retired in 2009 and is now a stable pony with O’Neill.
Antley, one of the most naturally gifted riders ever, was a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and came close to sweeping the 1999 Triple Crown with one of those Derby winners, Charismatic, who also won the Preakness before being injured in the stretch run of the Belmont. Antley rode primarily in New York and New Jersey but also had success in California. His other major wins included the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap, Blue Grass, and Mother Goose. He won 3,480 races. He died in 2000, at age 34, from what police ruled was a drug overdose.
Perret, 64, retired in 2005 as one of the most accomplished jockeys of his era, his 4,415 victories including the Kentucky Derby in 1990 aboard Unbridled. He also won that year’s Eclipse Award as champion jockey and won more money than any apprentice rider in 1967, before the Eclipse Awards were inaugurated. He also won the 1987 Belmont on Bet Twice and won four Breeders’ Cup races.
Kona Gold, a gelding, had a long, productive career that included five consecutive appearances in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, a race he won in 2000, when he was named champion sprinter. He won 14 of 30 starts, including consecutive runnings of Del Mar’s Bing Crosby. He was owned by a partnership that included his trainer, Bruce Headley. Kona Gold was retired to the Kentucky Horse Park, where he died in 2009.
Xtra Heat won 26 of 35 starts and finished out of the money just twice during a career highlighted in 2001 by being named champion 3-year-old filly, a rare honor for a sprinter. She won 10 graded stakes, including the Prioress, Genuine Risk, and two runnings of the Barbara Fritchie. She was trained by her longtime co-owner, John Salzman.