The day before Calvin Borel was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I chose ten people at random at Saratoga to interview about their favorite favorite Hall of Famer. Each person was asked to pick only one horse, trainer, or jockey from the current roster. Some did find it a bit tricky to limit themselves to one selection, understandably.

Gathering the answers provided an interesting microcosm into who is popular and why they appeal to people. Only one person chose a horse, somewhat surprisingly, and Bill Mott was mentioned rather frequently. Several people who were not from the U.S. were not familiar with those elected to the Hall of Fame, and one person only knew of soon-to-be-inducted Calvin Borel.

These are the responses to who the favorites are, and why they were meaningful to the people who
chose them.

“Twilight Tear was a filly in the 1940s, and she was a filly who beat older horses in the Pimlico Special. It wasn’t a very big field, but she beat Devil Diver, a pretty special horse. The year that Rachel Alexandra had her amazing campaign, there was a lot of talk of historical precedents, of fillies beating colts and older males. Twilight Tear is thought to be the first three-year-old filly to have beaten older males en route to being Horse of the Year.
She was a Calumet horse, and she had a stablemate named Pensive. Pensive won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and he lost the Belmont by a nose. So he was a nose away from winning the Triple Crown, and she beat him that day. That’s why I love her.”

– Teresa Genaro, turfwriter

“My favorite in all the years of watching is probably Charlie Whittingham, because he could train horses to go a distance and seemed to be more patient and kept them going longer.”

– Mandy Pope, owner

“I’d have to say Carl Nafzger, for sure. Not only do I work for him, he’s just an all-around great bloke – willing to talk to you; willing to help you; he’s got a great sense of humor; fantastic with the horses. He’s great for people that are non-racing people too. He attracts new people into the game, and anyone that’s good for people in racing is brilliant. For sure, he’d have to be my favorite Hall of Famer.”
– Brennan, groom for Carl Nafzger and Ian Wilkes

“One that is great is Billy Mott. He’s a very hands-on trainer. He’s out there every day. He’s got a lot of horses and knows every one as individuals. He’s my favorite because he is very hands-on , and a lot of people that have so many horses are not around them. He’s the real deal.”
– Gerry Carwood, trainer

When D. Wayne Lukas’ assistant trainer Sebastian Nicholl was asked who his favorite was, he replied, “I’m a little bit out of touch.” When told D. Wayne Lukas is in the Hall of Fame, he said, “Obviously, I’m very fond of D. Wayne Lukas. But until I moved to America, I’d never even heard of Secretariat. I mean, in Europe things are totally different. So I haven’t really thought about it, and there are so many in the Hall of Fame. But you know, Wayne Lukas is tremendous.” It was interesting to see that perspective on one of America’s most popular runners, and how the exploits of some of the legends of American racing may not have been as well-known outside this country as you might think.

“Jockey John Velasquez would be my favorite jockey, even before he was in the Hall of Fame. He was always my favorite jockey. When I first came over to America, I actually rode a race for Leo O’Brien, which is his father-in-law. And when I first came to America, I decided I wanted to ride races and I was pretty heavy. So I had to get my weight down a lot. I struggled with my weight.
When I rode my first race for Leo O’Brien, I wasn’t over here very long but Johnny Velasquez helped me out in the jocks’ room – he gave me some of his gear to ride. He was just so nice, and I really liked his style of riding. He’s a very good horseman.
That was my first impression. He was the first jockey that helped me in America.”

– Damien Rock, exercise rider

“Earlie Fires is my favorite. The year he got in the Hall of Fame was really emotional; he really deserved it. I trained and he rode for me. He rode hard for everybody, and was a quality person.”

– Jim Schenk, bloodstock agent

“Calvin Borel, because he’s a Louisiana jockey, though he’s based out of Kentucky. He gives a decent ride on all the horses he rides, and he’s a real good guy who works hard.”

– Bob (also from Louisiana), hotwalker for Dave Donk Stables

“I would have to say Roger Attfield for the trainer, because he’s an unbelievable horseman and great guy and he was special. For jockey I would say Laffit Pincay because when I fell in love with horse racing it was the year Swale won the Derby in 1984, and I picked him. From that day on Laffit Pincay became my hero and I had his posters all over my room. He came to Minnesota to ride in the St. Paul Derby a few years later, and my dad took me out to the airport to see him, when I was about 8 years old. So he’s always kind of had a special place in my heart.”

– Erin McMahon Rock, exercise rider

“My favorite trainer in the Hall of Fame would be a toss-up between Bill Mott and Mack Miller. Mack was like a second father to me when I came to New York, and of course my relationship is still ongoing with Billy. Tremendous trainers. And Cigar is my favorite horse – he’s one of the only horses I actually did have a relationship with while I was riding.”

– Jerry Bailey

Thank you to Tom Law for the story idea, and to all the racetrackers who shared their stories with me. It was enjoyable to hear everyone’s stories of racing greats, and what they personally meant to them.

And as a bonus, a few photos from the week I spent in Saratoga writing for the Special. When time allows, more will be added.

Watching races on the track

Watching races on the track


My first time in the winners' circle

My first time in the winners’ circle

To read more about my week at Saratoga, and horses racing against Wise Dan: