Expectation became reality on May 5 when it was announced that 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher had been elected to the National Museum of Racing’s 2021 Hall of Fame class, each chosen in the contemporary category in their first year of eligibility.
Jack Fisher, a 13-time champion steeplechase trainer, was also elected for induction by the Museum’s Steeplechase Review Committee, which meets once every four years.
American Pharoah and Pletcher were among the 10 finalists – six racehorses, three trainers, and one jockey – that comprised the 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. Hall of Fame voters could select as many or as few candidates they believe warrant induction but only candidates that received majority approval (one vote over 50%) from the voting panel were elected.
Their respective resumes made both American Pharoah and Pletcher two of the biggest surefire picks for induction. When the former captured the Triple Crown in 2015, it ended a 37-year hiatus between sweeps of the American classics. Since winning his first race in January 1996, Pletcher has been one of the most dominant and influential horsemen in the industry, owning records for career earnings ($405,791,977) and Eclipse Awards (seven) and ranking seventh all time in wins (5,118).
The class of 2021 will be enshrined along with the 2020 inductees — 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. — on Friday, Aug. 6, at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga Springs at 10:30 a.m.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on the Museum website at www.racingmuseum.org. An announcement regarding public attendance at the ceremony will be made at a later date.
Owned and bred by Zayat Stables and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 when he swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 2015. The son of Pioneerof the Nile fit the profile of a classic hero, earning champion 2-year-old male honors the year prior thanks to Grade 1 victories in the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner Stakes, and he came into the 2015 Kentucky Derby as the favorite off the strength of his prep race wins in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
The bay colt followed his Triple Crown exploits with a sublime victory in the Haskell Invitational (G1) before suffering the lone setback of his sophomore season when he finished second to Keen Ice in the 2015 Travers Stakes (G1). That bump in the road would indeed prove a minor blip as American Pharoah capped off his career with a 6 ½ length triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, leading every point of call under jockey Victor Espinoza.
“He’s certainly among the all-time greats. I don’t think there is any question about that,” Baffert said. “He did everything so effortlessly and with such class. The way he moved, his mechanics were absolutely flawless. He also has such a wonderful personality. Pharoah is really a sweet and kind horse and he loves humans. 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. He deserves all the accolades he gets.”
American Pharoah retired with a record of 9-1-0 from 11 starts and earned $8,650,300. He was voted Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male for 2015 and is currently stands for an advertised fee of $100,000 at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud.
“I went and saw him the other day (at Ashford Stud) and he looks as good as he’s ever looked, if not better,” Baffert said.
Pletcher, 53, a native of Dallas, went out on his own after working as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas from 1989 through 1995. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Pletcher has won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017) and the Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), and Tapwrit (2017) in addition to his 11 Breeders’ Cup race victories.
Pletcher has led all North American trainers in earnings 10 times and trained 11 Eclipse Award-winning horses — Hall of Famer Ashado, English Channel, Fleet Indian, Lawyer Ron, Left Bank, Rags to Riches, Shanghai Bobby, Speightstown, Wait a While, Uncle Mo, and Vino Rosso — and 20 horses that have earned $1.8 million or more. He has won a total of 60 individual meet training titles: 17 at Gulfstream, 16 at Belmont, 14 at Saratoga, six at Aqueduct, five at Keeneland, and two at Monmouth.
“I’m really humbled to be elected to the Hall of Fame. It’s an incredible honor and something that doesn’t happen without having great support around you,” Pletcher said. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a great team to work with and my family has been there every step of the way. There have been so many great owners who have trusted me with their horses and those horses have meant everything to me. Along with my family and team, I had amazing opportunities to learn from the likes of Wayne and Jeff Lukas and working winters alongside Kiaran McLaughlin, who taught me a lot about horses and also how to work with owners and communication skills. It really was a stroke of good fortune to come up with people like that around me.”
According to Equibase data, Pletcher has won 708 graded stakes, including 166 Grade 1s. He is enjoying another standout year so far in 2021 with 81 wins and earnings of $7,686,786 through May 4 and recently won the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks for the fourth time in his career with the undefeated Malathaat.
“Training horses is all I ever wanted to do,” Pletcher said. “I remember being 11 or 12 and telling my mom I wanted to train and she said it was wonderful. From that point on with her endorsement I never thought of doing anything else.”
Fisher, 57, a native of Unionville, Pa., won his first race as a trainer in 1988 at Middleburg, Va., with Call Louis and has been a consistently dominant force atop the National Steeplechase Association standings for the past 20 years.
Fisher topped all steeplechase trainers in wins for the first time in 2003 and has led the list an additional 12 times since. Fisher has ranked in the top five in both NSA wins and earnings each of the past 20 years. Through May 4, Fisher has won 593 career steeplechase races and ranks second all time in purse earnings with more than $17.8 million (behind only Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard).
Fisher is the only trainer in steeplechase history to surpass $1 million in purse earnings in a year, something he has accomplished five times. He trained two-time Eclipse Award winner and Hall of Fame member Good Night Shirt, one of only three horses to earn $1 million in steeplechase racing (along with Hall of Famers Lonesome Glory and McDynamo). Good Night Shirt won a total of 10 graded stakes, including eight Grade 1 events, and twice set the single-season NSA earnings record. Fisher also trained Eclipse Award winners Scorpiancer (2017) and Moscato (2020).
According to Equibase, Fisher won 57 races as a jockey with earnings of $953,243, including $394,189 as Saluter’s pilot.
“I’ve always loved being around horses. It’s been my life,” Fisher said. “I was terrible in school and didn’t want to be there. I loved riding and I love training. I learned a lot from my father (trainer John Fisher) and from guys like (Hall of Fame trainers) Mikey Smithwick and Tommy Voss. They were examples to me of the work it takes to be successful and also how they built a good team. You can’t do it alone.
“I’ve had some wonderful and patient owners and great talent in the barn. To have horses like Good Night Shirt, Scorpiancer, Moscato, and Snap Decision has been incredible beyond words. I’m pretty darn lucky.”