A Day Full of Emotions, Laughter and Gratitude at the Horse Racing Hall of Fame


SARATOGA SPRINGS – There were moments of raw emotion. Add a parallel order of laughter. And, of course, many words straight from the heart.

That’s what you got if you attended Friday’s annual induction ceremony for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion across from the Saratoga Racetrack.

For the first time, the Hall of Fame hosted two classes at once. The 2021 group – trainer Todd Pletcher, steeplechase trainer Jack Fisher and 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah – were joined by the class of 2020. They didn’t have their day last summer because the event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This meant trainer Mark Casse, Double Horse of the Year Wise Dan, Tom Bowling (historical review, horse), Darrel McHargue (historical review, jockey) and Pillars of the Turf J. Keene Daingerfield, Jr., George D Widener, Jr. and Alice Headley Chandler would share the stage with this year’s class.

A full house at the pavilion showed their appreciation as films from each new member of the hall were screened. There was excitement and applause as the popular Belmont Stakes of the American Pharoah’s Triple Crown was presented. And the public showed their appreciation when the exploits of 2012 and 2013 Horse of the Year, Wise Dan, were chronicled.

The trainers honored that day gave inspiring speeches sprinkled with humor and tears.

“It’s all about the horses,” Fisher said. “I just try not to mess them up too much.”

Pletcher, one of the most dominant riders in the sport over the past 20 years, spoke for 5 minutes and 10 seconds. He kept his cool most of the time, but was a little hesitant as he spoke directly to his wife Tracy, sons Payton (22) and Kyle (21) and daughter Hannah (18) who were seated in the front row just in front of the podium from which Pletcher was speaking.

There was also his mother, Jerrie, and, in the second row, his father JJ and his stepmother Joan.

“My biggest break was being born into my parents’ home,” said Pletcher, 54, an only child. “They supported me every step of the way, every step of the way. And my family sacrificed a lot. I missed a lot of football games and school nights.”

Pletcher was introduced by longtime friend and horse owner, Mike Repole. Repole didn’t get the memo about keeping introductions short as he continued for 6:51 p.m. He had turned his speech upside down at 4:24. If you bet more, you win big.

Before he started, he hinted that he was going to ramble for a while.

“The publication time (Friday) will be 3 p.m. (pm time),” he said. The ceremony began at 10:30 a.m. and lasted two hours.

Pletcher, standing to the side as Repole spoke, smiled as his friend told stories about their relationship. Pletcher would have been on the podium for hours if he had started thanking everyone who played a part in his life or the horses who helped make him the success he is.

Pletcher has trained 11 Eclipse Prize-winning horses. He has won the Eclipse Award seven times as the best coach in the country.

Before ending his speech, Pletcher stole a quote from the late Cot Campbell, for whom he trained horses including Palace Malice, winner of the Belmont Stakes in 2013.

“It’s not as cool coming from me because (Campbell) was a cool guy,” Pletcher said. “Above all, I want to thank horses, horses and horses.”

Casse, 60, knew he was going to be emotional when he spoke. He began his speech by saying, “I have a better chance of winning the Kentucky Derby than going through this without losing my temper.”

He held back tears as he spoke of his late father, Norman, as well as his son and coach, also named Norman. He acknowledged the owners, singling out Charlotte Weber, whose World Approval Casse trained to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2017. Another tip of the hat went to his wife, Tina.

At the end of his speech, he told a story that encompassed family and racing and his journey to the Hall of Fame.

“I first visited the Hall of Fame in 1972 with my dad when I was 11,” Casse said. “I walked around with my mouth wide open and at the end of my visit I told him that I wanted to be there one day. As any father would say, he said, ‘Yes, you will’.

Her voice cracked and Casse looked up at the skies.

“I love you, dad,” he said.


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