Will King reign one day in the Hall?
When Pat Day, Mesh Tenney and others were honored Thursday at the annual induction ceremonies at the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., it sparked the question: Will King Leatherbury be there one day?
The 57-year-old trainer is credited with more winners than all but two trainers -- Dale Baird and Jack Van Berg -- in North American racing history, but numbers do not necessarily a Hall of Famer make. Although Van Berg was inducted to the Hall in 1985, Baird has virtually no chance to make it, simply because he has made a career of dominating lowly Mountaineer Park in West Virginia.
Leatherbury has been equally dominant in Maryland in a 32-year career, having won nearly 4,800 races. But the 100 or so turf writers who will ultimately decide on whether he is a Hall of Famer must first determine whether ruling Maryland equals greatness.
One veteran trainer, Vinnie Blengs, says it does not.
Blengs, who has won some 2,000 races in a long training career HTC in New England, Florida, New York and now Maryland, says that a Hall of Famer must prove himself in more one place.
"You're so great?" Blengs asked rhetorically. "Show me. Do it in New York, where all the great ones have done it. You want to be considered great in this game, you have to travel."
Leatherbury recognizes Blengs' argument, but says his
circumstances have given him no reason to go to New York or California, where the best racing is conducted.
"I'm Maryland through and through," he said. "I have a farm in Maryland, I breed horses for Maryland races, I have Maryland owners. Somebody wrote about me a few years ago, 'Leatherbury is as Maryland as crab cakes.' And it's true."
Leatherbury said that while hot trainers have come and gone through the years, he has maintained his stature. And that's true. On a circuit that at one point was considered fair-to-midland but is now recognized as perhaps the toughest, barring California and New York, that's saying a lot. Leatherbury has been winning with consistency, with every type of horse, in every way imaginable, for as long as most people can remember.
"Trouble is, there is no real criteria for what it takes to get elected to the Hall of Fame," he said.
An unwritten rule for election is supposedly a "big horse" at one point in a career, and Leatherbury said not having had one may hurt his Hall chances. But when told that Van Berg was elected before Alysheba ever raced, Leatherbury was nonplused. "Well," said after a long pause, "his was a unique situation."
King Leatherbury is unique. Through time, he has won and won and won, and Maryland is no pony-league circuit. Comparing Baird-in-Mountaineer to Leatherbury-in-Maryland borders on insulting.
Tim Capps, who serves on the Hall of Fame nominating committee, said he expects Leatherbury's name to appear on a ballot "in the next three to four years. I think his chances of being elected are very good."
Leatherbury could have made it anywhere. Hall of Fame voters of the future should know that.
Leatherbury has recently been using Jacinto Vasquez as his regular rider. Vasquez, whose chances of making the Hall are even better than Leatherbury's, is prominent in the recently released book, "Ruffian: Burning From The Start," by Jane Schwartz.
Vasquez rode Ruffian in all but two starts in her brilliant career and was aboard her for the Great Match Race in July 1975. The book recounts in vivid detail every aspect of the filly's rise to stardom before climaxing with the painful night of the Match Race, when veterinarian William Reed was forced to destroy her.
Other Marylanders are also given ample mention, including the late Stuart and Barbara Janney, Barclay Tagg and Vince Bracciale Jr.
The final weekly racing show on Home Team Sports may have already been produced and televised.
The feature-oriented show, which aired in the 11:30 p.m. time slot on Wednesdays, is likely to be canceled this week.
B6 Meanwhile, the daily replay show on HTS continues.
A sickness among some of England's top stables could have a negative effect on some of America's best races in the coming months.
A widespread outbreak of equine influenza has sidelined many horses in top stables, including those of Clive Brittain, Luca Cumani and John Gosden.
It's too early to tell how devastating it might be, but the flu could keep some horses from flying overseas for big races such as the Arlington Million (Sept. 1), the Laurel Turf Festival (Oct. 19-20) and the Breeders' Cup (Nov. 2).
"Everyone is cautious at this point," Brittain told Daily Racing Form.