Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bill Turner Honored in Barbados, if not in the Hall of Fame

Bill Turner, the only living thoroughbred trainer to win the Triple Crown, is in Barbados this weekend, being honored by the island's racing establishment at a Triple Crown Forum on Friday and then at the 29th running of Barbados's biggest race, the Sandy Lane Gold Cup, on Saturday. Details of the trip are here.

But, while the Barbados Turf Club recognizes Turner's stature in the game, the same recognition hasn't come from the US racing establishment, in the persons of the Racing Hall of Fame's nominating committee. That committee is now engaged in its annual ritual of selecting nominees for the Hall, and it's high time they gave Bill a shot.

In addition to training Seattle Slew and some other pretty nice horses, Bill has trained a number of good New York-breds for my Castle Village Farm over the past decade, including Hollie Hughes Handicap winner Introspect, and multiple stakes-placed filly Just Zip It. You might also have heard of some of the stakes winners he's had for other owners in the years since Seattle Slew: Punch Line, Czaravich, Strike Gold, Play On, Night Fax, Gaviola, Finery, Eze, Dust Bucket, and Dry Martini, just to name those that have won graded races.

But Bill has never been given a real shot at the Hall of Fame, even though the Hall has welcomed other trainers who are definitely not his equal in understanding how a race horse thinks and develops. I suppose the rap on Bill is that he had only the one big horse -- Seattle Slew. But Sonny Hine is in the Hall, and his one big horse, Skip Away, wasn't as dominating as Slew. Or how about Mesh Tenney, also in the Hall, who had Swaps and, does anyone remember his other winners? Then there's the unforgettable (sic) Harry Trotsek, elected to the Hall in 1984, who had only one Eclipse Award winner, the equally (sic) unforgettable turf winner Stan.

The point isn't to diss some of the less-worthy inhabitants of the Hall of Fame, but merely to point out that Bill has the credentials to be there, and should be, while he's still alive to enjoy it. (Bill celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this week, and he's been training race horses for over 40 years.) Bill certainly has had his one big horse -- Slew was bigger and more successful than most, and it was Bill's training in the colt's two- and three-year-old years that got him there -- and he's had lots more stakes winners besides, more than or as many as quite a lot of those who already have their plaques on Union Avenue in Saratoga. At a time when our sport needs some heroes, it wouldn't be a bad idea at all to remind people of Seattle Slew and Bill Turner by inducting Bill into the Hall this summer.

So, enjoy Barbardos, Bill and let's hope the nominating committee for the Hall comes to its senses this year. But then, hurry up and get back to training our new three-year-old!

More details on Bill Turner's career are available here, here and here.

And if you want to get in touch with any or all of the Hall of Fame nominating committee, here they are:

Edward L. Bowen, chairman of the committee and, president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, freelance writer and a trustee of the Museum; Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable and a Museum trustee; Steve Crist, publisher and columnist, Daily Racing Form; Jane Goldstein, turf writer and the retired Santa Anita Park publicist; Russ Harris, handicapper and turf writer, New York Daily News; Jay Hovdey, executive columnist, Daily Racing Form; Dan Liebman, editor-in-chief, The Blood-Horse; Neil Milbert, formerly a turf writer at the Chicago Tribune now a freelance writer; Leverett Miller, owner-breeder and Museum trustee; William Nack, freelance turf writer and author; Jay Privman, national correspondent, Daily Racing Form, and television analyst of racing; Jennie Rees, turf writer and columnist, The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; John Sparkman, bloodstock/sales editor, Thoroughbred Times; Clark Spencer, turf writer, Miami Herald; Michael Veitch, turf writer and columnist, The Saratogian and Daily Racing Form; John T. von Stade, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

In this wired age, I'm sure we can all reach out to them to do the right thing.

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