Jean Cruguet and Billy Turner into the Racing Hall of Fame. Because, as Everyone Wailed this Year…It IS so Hard.

Marion Altieri,New York writer

Marion Altieri,New York writer

I’ve re-worked a piece I wrote for this ‘site, back in June, because now it’s 2016, and soon we’ll be thinking about the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.  And I’ve heard silly people state that Victor Espinoza should be inducted this year.  “Because, OH, MY GOD, he won the Triple Crown!!!!”  

Hold your horses…first people, first…

The first compelling fact that leads us to the conclusion that both Jockey, Jean Cruguet and Trainer, Billy Turner, deserve to be in the Racing Hall of Fame is that 29 countries have Triple Crowns, and among them, only 14 undefeated Triple Crown Champions.

That brings us to Seattle Slew.  Seattle Slew, as the Nominating Committee and Voting Panel members know, is the only undefeated Triple Crown victor in the history of United States’ horse racing.  Ergo, the only American horse of 14–of 29 nations that host Triple Crowns.

That’s a damned exclusive club.

If we in the U.S.  think that American Pharoah achieved something, being one of only 12 Triple Crown Champions since the series of races first were organized–try to wrap your head around Seattle Slew’s worldwide statistics.   I don’t recall reading or hearing anything, anywhere, about these stats.  And these stats do count.  It can’t be that I’m the only racing writer who’s researched these statistics, but I may be one of very few whose enthusiasm for Pharoah’s victory didn’t blind me completely to the achievements of past Triple Crown winners, most notably, Seattle Slew.

So on the one hand, we have the incredible rareness of American Pharoah’s achievements–then the even-more-rare accomplishments of Seattle Slew.

And on the other hand, we have the comment that sprouted wings, when first uttered in a non-thinking moment, after the 2014 Belmont Stakes.  When Steve Coburn (co-owner of Triple Crown contender, California Chrome) blurted out his frustrated rant, unwittingly he started a dialogue that continued–right up until June 6th, 2015.

Among other embarrassing statements, Mr. Coburn threw it Out There, that winning the Triple Crown was “…too hard.”

 “Too hard” became a mantra for many people–and even some racing organizations–for just-short of a year.  The concept that the Triple Crown was “too hard” for any horse went viral, as people worried about the physical and mental health of the horses riding that train to Glory.

The entire structure of the three races–the period of times between each race, and whether or not fresh horses should be allowed in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes–became the hot property of many racing media, which no doubt benefited from all the hoopla.  Many non-racing media–giving a bow to major horse racing events–went berserk, and suddenly became experts.  Too many outside media hired anyone who could use a QWERTY keyboard to write “insightful” pieces.  (Most of these “insights” were embarrassing to read, as they showed the writers’ utter lack of understanding of the sport, and that of their editors.  Like hiring me to write about the Super Bowl.)

That argument raged, then waned as we went into winter, then reared its silly head again in the weeks leading up to the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

IF American Pharoah–or another horse–won the Kentucky Derby–would he be “too tired” to beat a field of fresh horses in the Belmont Stakes, just five weeks later?

Obviously, the answer was, NO.

American Pharoah proved on June 6th that it can be done–so we can dispense with the silly chatter about changing the details of the Triple Crown races in the U.S.  At least for another 37 years.  Someone could do it–so obviously, it can be done.

Done, by a superior horse.
Done, by an insightful jockey.
Done, by a trainer who planned his horse’s training–long before the Kentucky Derby–putting the horse’s needs first.

That’s what it takes to win the Triple Crown:  like a meteor shower, an incredible convergence of factors, coming together at just the right moment, at just the right time.  One iota to the left or right–one change in feed, jockey or trainer–and the whole recipe could have been ruined.

And this is precisely why Seattle Slew’s trainer, Billy Turner and Slew’s jockey, Jean Cruguet, should be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, in 2016.  Because it IS so hard.

Even if the whole darned process wasn’t “so hard,” they should be in the Hall of Fame:  If either gentleman never had trained or ridden another horse in their entire careersthey won the damned Triple Crown.

And here in the U.S., only 12 horses have done that.

As much as I love horses–and I respect their intelligence and spirits–you know as well as I that the horses don’t run by themselves.  They need trainers to build them up and teach them how to run.  And they need jockeys who have grit, stamina and the intuition to know their horses.  i.e., As talented as is American Pharoah, he didn’t do it alone.  Neither did Seattle Slew.

Now, when you add to this. the incredibly rare world statistics on Slew–that there are 29 nations that host Triple Crowns, and of those 29–only 14 undefeated–only one American, Seattle Slew, in that number–you have a logical argument that cannot be denied:

  • A Triple Crown winner in the United States is rare.
  • A Triple Crown winner in the U.S., who’s also undeafeatedonly one horse—one team of jockey, trainer and horse—has done that. (Of the 29 nations of the world that host Triple Crowns–only 14 of those horses are undefeated.)
  • Ergo, Seattle Slew is the only American horse who resides in that stratosphere. Like God, he is the only member of his species.

Every racing professional and fan knows that American Pharoah will be inducted into the Hall of Fame five years after his retirement.  It’s been the topic of articles and much social media discussion.  Many new fans think this is because, for some reason, American Pharoah is one of a kind.  But no, he’s one of 12.  He’ll be inducted because any horse who wins the Triple Crown should be inducted automatically into the Racing Hall of Fame.  And their trainer and jockey.

Yes, American Pharoah has to wait five years for his induction, as are the current rules.

But in reality, he’s already there, except for the ceremony and formalities.

Seattle Slew has been in the Hall of Fame since 1981, just four years after he took the Crown.

Why are not his trainer and jockey in the Hall of Fame?  (I ask this as a race fan of 56 years, and as a racing media professional.)

There’s too much emphasis in American racing these days, on the amount of money that a jockey, horse or trainer has won, and not necessarily the quality of the races that added up to that amount of cash.

Bloated purses = more income to report to, but how valuable was the race that led to the awarding of that money?  (Yes, there are some spectacular races, like the Dubai World Cup races, that offer both high purses and superior challenge and prestige to the runners.  Those races aren’t for newbies, or those who can’t take a serious throw-down.)  But we see it all the time, now:  how much a jockey has won–or a trainer, or a horse–becomes the yardstick by which that being’s merit is measured, and the subject of many media stories.

And that’s just plain silly, because inflation has to be considered.  And, when inflation is considered—the numbers become moot.

(And, God knows, that untouchable factor–Heart–is never considered in the case of the human connections.)

Horses are said to have Heart–and that’s good, the horses are the Heart and Soul of the sport.  But their humans also should have Heart.  Some do.  Many don’t.  Some have more than others.  Heart should be a factor for Hall of Fame consideration.  You can’t see it.  You can’t touch it.  But, like the judge who could not define pornography–who knew it when he saw it–we know Heart when we see it.)

Seattle Slew’s take of the Kentucky Derby purse was a mere $287,000.
That means absolutely nothing.  
He won the Kentucky Derby.

Then, he went on to win the Triple Crown.

Should his jockey and trainer be kept out of the Hall of Fame simply because they won the Triple Crown 38 years ago, before inflation went insane?  Of course not. 

Now, you may have noticed that both gentlemen, Jean Cruguet and Billy Turner, were treated like rock stars during Belmont Stakes Week, 2015. Rightfully so.  The media went to them for (what seemed like) hundreds of TV and radio interviews; for photos and for their opinions.

This one week, every year, they are given the respect that they so richly deserve.

But being treated like a rock star, once a year, is not equal to being given the props that you deserve.  Fancy dinners and reporters falling all over you once a year are not the same as being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Of joining your peers there, living members of horse racing history.

I posit herein that, between the two of them, Cruguet and Turner know more about horse racing than 99% of those currently on the oval.  I know both gentlemen, and have watched them in action with horses.  Their deep intuition, their love for horses, their knowledge of the sport–all eclipse the combined talents of many of today’s racing professionals.

Certainly earnings are not the sole criteria that are considered–or should be–when the Hall of Fame process is set into motion every year.  Other factors are considered.  But the one factor that should be considered–a line that should be on the forms–should read, simply,

Won the Triple Crown.

Anyone for whom that box is checked automatically should be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The logical argument, why Jean Cruguet and Billy Turner should be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016?

1)  Because they won the Triple Crown, and only 11 others have achieved that.  Ever.
2)  They’re the only undefeated team so to do.
3)  Precisely because, as so many people squawked this past year, it IS so damned hard.

This is logical argumentation, the Truth of which cannot be denied, or even argued.

Case, closed.