The gravity of the moment was too much for even the ever-cool Bob Baffert.
The last of the class of 2009 to accept induction to the National Racing Hall of Fame on Friday, Baffert lost control of his emotions several times, especially when talking about his family.
The former quarterhorse trainer, who has trained the winners of eight Triple Crown races, seven Breeders’ Cup races and has 10 champions on his resume, recounted how he grew up in a small town, and never envisioned becoming a Hall of Famer.
He did it with horses like Silverbulletday, who was also inducted, making Baffert and his two-time champion the first trainer-horse combination to be inducted in the same year since Neil Drysdale and A.P. Indy in 2000.
“I stand here today and I look around here, and you’re all wondering the same thing: What is Bob Baffert doing in the Hall of Fame?” he said. “I still can’t believe it myself. I grew up in a little border town, Nogales, Arizona, [training] quarter horses and it’s amazing to stand up here. It didn’t hit me until I got here this week. When I got off the plane Monday, I saw this pavilion and got all choked up like I am right now. I thought, how am I going to get through this?”
Baffert’s accomplishments include nine Eclipse Award champions, including Indian Blessing, Midnight Lute, Chilukki, Point Given, Real Quiet, Silverbulletday, Silver Charm, Vindication and War Emblem.
He won two legs of the Triple Crown four times, with Hall of Famer Silver Charm (1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness), Real Quiet (1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness), Point Given (2001 Preakness and Belmont) and War Emblem (2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness).
Baffert was introduced by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who said, “Giving Bob Baffert an athlete, a good pedigree and a good-looking horse is like having Tiger Woods on the 18th green at the Masters with an eight-foot putt. Good things are going to happen. It’s like giving Elvis a good song, or Remington a paintbrush and a western sunset. He’s a fierce rival and an outstanding trainer.”
“I came here to make sure I was here when Wayne Lukas got inducted,” Baffert said. “I remember that day. I didn’t want to miss it, because I’ve been chasing him all my life. Wayne, I’m only one Derby behind and $200 million . . . I’ll get you one of these days. I’ve never had a plan. I just let the horses take me where I never thought I’d be.”
Baffert introduced his parents, Bill and Ellie, and five of his six siblings, who he asked to stand as he called out their names.
By then, he had already listened to a speech by his close friend, Mike Pegram, who accepted for Silverbulletday.
Pegram still owns Silverbulletday — named after his and Baffert’s affinity for Coors Light — who is in foal to Elusive Quality.
She won the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the division championship, and her victories as a 3-year-old included a nine-length romp in the Alabama at Saratoga Race Course.
“First of all, I’d like to thank Bob Baffert and his family for traveling all this way just to see Silverbulletday go into the Hall of Fame,”
Pegram joked. “We were at Churchill Downs to watch Real Quiet and Indian Charlie. The gates opened and this bay filly just goes streaking down the Churchill Downs straightaway. I looked over at Bobby, and he didn’t even look at the watch, he just looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, ‘We’re going to have a lot of fun with this filly.’ Well, 15 wins, $3 million in earnings and two championships . . . he was right.”
Also inducted were jockey Eddie Maple, steeplechase trainer Janet Elliot, two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow and Ben Nevis II, the winner of the English Grand National in 1980.
Elliot is the first female trainer to be inducted, and the second woman, after jockey Julie Krone in 2000.
Maple won the Belmont Stakes on Temperence Hill and Crème Fraiche, three runnings of the Metropolitan Handicap, two Travers and two Suburban Handicaps. Maple rode Arbees Boy, Foolish Pleasure and Quiet Little Table to victories over Forego, and he rode Secretariat to victory in the Canadian International, the colt’s final start. He rode regularly for Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens, who put him on such top horses as Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo, Devil’s Bag, Swale and Forty Niner.
“Woody told me once, ‘Eddie, if you want to be a big flea, you’ve got to ride a big dog,’ ” Maple said.
Maple’s induction ended what had been a long wait for the 60-year-old jockey, who retired in 1998 with 4,398 wins in a 34-year career.
“The first time I was nominated was 1995,” he said. “Nomination 2 came and went, 3, 4, 5, 6 . . . this year, everybody said the same thing, the seventh time’s the charm. And they were right. I like to think when I was riding I had a pretty good sense of timing. I was a patient jockey. I knew how to wait. But those 14 years of waiting for this were testing my skills pretty good.”
The Hall of Fame also announced that it will assemble a Media Honor Roll named for Joe Hirsch, the late Daily Racing Form columnist.
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