Fix Hall rule to allow Pletcher in

Fix Hall rule to allow Pletcher in

April 17, 2018 3:00 AM


When trainer Todd Pletcher’s Magnum Moon won Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby – with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure – he remained undefeated and now will go to Louisville, with the most qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

Of equal import, Magnum Moon’s win gives Pletcher his fourth horse with enough points for a starting slot in the 144th running of this 1-1/4 mile classic. In addition to Magnum Moon, Pletcher also has Florida Derby winner Audible; Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy and Wood Memorial winner Vino Rossi.

Beyond that, I must address a confusing point I made in last week’s column about Pletcher not presently being a member of Racing’s Hall of Fame. In that column, I stated Pletcher’s absence from the Hall is a “bad joke” which it is. But, giving credit where it’s due, a handful of astute readers pointed out that Pletcher is not yet eligible for the Hall because he has “only” served as a trainer for 23 years, not the required 25!

While I omitted that point in last week’s column, I actually believe the 25-year rule that bars Pletcher from the Hall, proves the point that the Hall of Fame’s rules are pretty stupid.

Consider this hypothetical situation: Suppose trainer Mickey Mack Mantle were to begin his career in 2018 and during the next 10 years, win five straight Kentucky Derbys, two Preakness and three Belmont stakes, along with eight Breeders’ Cup races and six titles as America’s top trainer! With such a record, wouldn’t it be absurd to exclude Mr. Mantle from the Hall until he completes 25 years of service?

While Pletcher has not been quite that good, his outstanding career record is much stronger right now than all but a few Hall of Fame trainers. As previously pointed out, Pletcher has been named America’s top trainer seven times while winning nine Breeders’ Cup races and five Triple Crown events – including last year’s Kentucky Derby with Always Dreaming.

Being mindful of that reality is why I said it is unfair Pletcher is not presently a member of Racing’s Hall of Fame. And, I further believe those in charge of the Hall, have plenty of evidence to amend their rules to make it possible for trainers of Pletcher’s accomplishments to be elected without having to wait a quarter century.

So, yes, I should have specifically pointed out the 25 year requirement. Yet, I still believe Mr. Pletcher deserves a place in the Hall right now. How unfortunate it is that cannot happen because the current rules to make it into the Hall are patently absurd.

In another issue addressed in last week’s column, I pointed out how fillies have a very rough time to earn the necessary qualifying points to gain a starting slot in the Kentucky Derby. To do so, a filly must finish first or second in one of the highly rated Graded stakes presently utilized to qualify 3- year-old males for the Derby.

This year, there was one filly, Rayya, who finished a distant second to Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby to earn enough Derby qualifying points. But Rayya is not going to run in the Derby because her connections wisely realized she only qualified under fluke circumstances and hardly is one of America’s top 3-year-old fillies.

Given that reality, I feel compelled to offer a suggestion to Churchill Downs officials that will give the best 3-year-old fillies a more realistic chance to make it into the Derby starting gate.

Keep in mind, Churchill Downs has two separate qualifying point systems – one for the $2 million Kentucky Derby and one for starting slots in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks, annually run the day before the Derby.

While the system for the Oaks awards points for good performances in designated stakes for fillies, I suggest Churchill could simultaneously award 25 percent of the points earned by these top class fillies (in those designated filly stakes) toward Kentucky Derby eligibility.

Without Churchill Downs doing that, we rarely will see a top class filly matched against males in the Kentucky Derby. Frankly, the most realistic way this could change would be if fillies are credited with Derby eligibility points in the manner I am suggesting.

Remember, under today’s rules only the top four finishers in Graded stakes primarily designed for 3-year-old males will earn Derby Eligibility Points. Thus, without a change – or a top filly running a strong race in a Derby Eligibility stakes designed for males, it will be extremely rare to see the best 3-year-old fillies compete against males in the world’s most famous race. That’s dead wrong.

Added Notes: My Boy Jack rallied well to win the $200K Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday. While his Beyer Figure was a modest 90, My Boy Jack is one of very few Derby contenders who has late speed in a race that will feature a long list of horses who prefer to run near the pace… Sad news filtered through the racing and sports journalism world on Friday, as the great Bill Nack died at age 77 of cancer. Bill was a tremendous talent, a fine human being, a friend who will be missed by many – forever.