SHOULD THE WINNINGEST THOROUGHBRED TRAINER OF ALL TIME BE IN THE HALL OF FAME?

This week’s Horse Racing Business evaluates the following resolution:   The late Dale Baird, the number 1 Thoroughbred horse trainer ever in recording wins, should have his name enshrined in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame election standards for trainers:

The Hall of Fame specifies that a candidate must have worked at the craft  for a minimum of 25 years.

The criteria for electors to apply in evaluating candidates are embodied in the Hall of Fame’s mission, which “is to honor the achievements of those horses, jockeys, and trainers whose records and reputations have withstood the difficult test of time.”

A. Factors Supporting Dale Baird’s Admission to the Hall of Fame.

Mr. Baird, age 72 at the time of his death, began training Thoroughbred racehorses in the summer of 1961, so when he died in a traffic accident on December 23, 2007, he had over 46 years’ experience.

Mr. Baird is the leading Throughbred trainer of all time in career wins.   His total was 9,445 and no one is remotely close to this number.

Mr. Baird was the first trainer ever to reach 7,000, 8,000, and 9,000 wins–in 1996, 1999, and 2004, respectively.    Only three other trainers have attained 5,000 wins (Jerry Hollendorfer, King Leatherbury, and Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg).

Mr. Baird was honored with a Special Eclipse Award following the 9,000-win mark, a recognition of high distinction, as determined by experts in the Thoroughbred sport of racing.

Jack Van Berg is in the Hall of Fame and, like Mr. Baird, he was a noted trainer of claiming horses.

The criteria for admission to the Hall of Fame are very subjective and could accommodate Mr. Baird’s admission.

B. Factors Weighing Against Dale Baird’s Admission to the Hall of Fame.

Mr. Baird’s wins were overwhelmingly in claiming races.  Unlike Mr. Van Berg, he had no Grade 1 or Classic victories.

Mr. Baird’s record was achieved mostly at a less competitive racetrack.

Mr. Baird purchased approximately 200 horses per year and many of his cast-offs purportedly ended up in slaughterhouses.   In this regard, Mr. Baird’s reputation may not have met the test of time.

C.  Yes, No, or Maybe

The Hall of Fame criteria are so inexact that electors are left to interpret as they so desire and apply their own standards.  It is not possible to be a “strict constructionist” in adhering to the language.  For this reason, one can make a reasonable case for or against Mr. Baird’s induction.

Mr. Baird’s win total is so far ahead of everyone else’s that he, ipso facto, is the statistically most outstanding trainer of all time, and then some.   Further, some other trainers in the Hall of Fame are reportedly not clean on the issue of directly or indirectly dealing with slaughterhouse buyers for unwanted racehorses, so there is precedent here for his admission.

Considering only the overwhelming superiority of Dale Baird’s wins vis-a-vis other trainers, from all eras, a Hall of Fame induction would unquestionably be perfunctory.   But when “quality of wins” is factored in, the evidence does not support Mr. Baird’s induction because he had no Grade 1 or Classic wins.  Presumably, a Hall of Fame trainer must demonstrate his or her ability to compete at the highest levels of the sport of horse racing, although the Hall of Fame’s admission standards do not specifically say as much.

Going strictly by the Hall of Fame’s stated criteria, Mr. Baird could be admitted.   However, I come down against his induction through my particular slant on the Hall of Fame’s phrase “trainers whose records and reputations have withstood the difficult test of time.”   My interpretation of what the word reputation means is not having a history of suspensions for rules infractions and winning multiple races at the top echelon.   While Mr. Baird did not have a history of suspensions, he did not win at the pinnacle of the sport.

Admittedly, I am reading into the criteria my personal predilections.   Others may see things differently and would be on solid ground, given the vague language on admission.   The Hall of Fame needs to tighten up its criteria so that it is more precise in what constitutes a Hall of Fame training career.   If Grade 1 and Classic wins are requisite, state that fact.  And say how many of each are needed at the minimum.

Dale Baird is unlikely to get enough votes to achieve Hall of Fame status.  Nonetheless, his legacy does not need the imprimatur of the Hall of Fame to confirm that he was one superb trainer.   The ability of a trainer who had nearly 9,500 career wins is self evident, regardless of the degree of competition.  This is a mark that may never be surpassed.   

Whether Mr. Baird’s exclusion is justified on the facts is arguable.   He may be an elite trainer who is being kept out of the Hall of Fame by a case of elitism on the part of some voters, or his record may not measure up to the great conditioners in racing history. 

Copyright © 2009 Horse Racing Business

Comments

  1. Harlan Abbey says:

    No horseman who dealt so openly with “killer buyers” deserves any type of accolade, let alone the Hall of Fame.

  2. sulkyman says:

    “Killer buyer” issues are too emotional and hard to judge objectively. Got to consider only what a trainer did in winning races. If morality was considered, many of the Hall of Fame people in MLB, the NFL and the NBA would not be in, such as OJ Simpson and Ty Cobb.

  3. Rick Belanski says:

    Quick, name one of Dale Baird’s best horses.

    Doesn’t have to be a stakes horse. Go ahead.

    Nor does it have to be a high handicap horse. Certainly one of Baird’s charges sticks out from the rest, right?

    Right?

  4. Racing has already enough bad people in the HOF and as Eclipse Award recipients. The last thing that the HOF needs is to honor the worst trainer who bought cheap, spent and broken horses as far awat as CA and horses already in the slaughter pipeline. He exploited them to the end then tossed them to the killers, while refusing to deal with rescues. The man was evil and I am so sorry that his relatives are owning and training horses. I can only hope that they are better than Baird was and that racetracks are protecting horses better than they have been. Those who vote to honor evil are just as evil as well as the tracks which let Baird destroy doomed horses under their watch because he was churning so many horses and filling races. The whole affair is troubling and racing deserves such a bad reputation. Eclipse Awards and HOF voters need to first weigh the content of the character of all nominees along with the quality of their equine management (racing needs to keep track of all injuries and fatalities by owners and trainers) along with $ and win records.

    Baird’s win records were earned in a trail of agony, blood, broken bones and death and no one stopping the [edited out}. And his name keeps popping up in article discussing the HOF.

    When will racing learn to avoid shooting itself in the foot?

  5. Horseid says:

    Dale Baird has won a race a day for almost 26 years. For a number of years he was also the Leading Owner in the Country. Aside from being a good businessman he was a great person. Hall O Fame material? No Doubt!!

  6. coeurdefer says:

    How does the saying go? “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey that matters.” In other words, yes, getting there is important; but it is never as important as HOW you got there.

    Simply put, he doesn’t deserve the “honor”. I will also say that there are people in there that are “questionable” addittionally. The criteria has to be more specific. I have no ax to grind on the now deceased Mr. Baird. He did nothing illegal. I just wish he didn’t use the ax on his horses; which technically he didn’t personally do…he got bucks for letting someone else do it.

    My question would be: I’ll vote for Mr. Baird for the HOF if vet records show none of those racers then meat horses were given bute while he was training them. Bute has NO acceptable withdrawal period for human consumption horse meat….those lucky horsemeat eaters!

  7. equinemaid says:

    NO, he made his way by sending everything to the killers. His barn was a one-way ticket to the killer if they threw in a couple of bad races or were hurt and could not be hopped any more. I called him about a horse he had once I raised and asked for when he was finished to please call me and I would take him. Never got the all – horse disappeared.

  8. larwobe says:

    How can hall of fame voters in any sport judge a candidate’s character? That is a slippery slope. Much too vague. A couple of the commenters on here are almost irrational and their judgment is affected.

  9. “The Special Award is presented to honor outstanding individual achievements in, or contributions to, the sport of Thoroughbred racing.” Thoroughbred Racing Associations

    1971 : Robert J. Kleberg
    1974 : Charles Hatton
    1976 : Bill Shoemaker
    1980 : John T. Landry/Pierre Bellocq
    1984 : C.V. Whitney
    1985 : Arlington Park
    1987 : Anheuser-Busch
    1988 : Edward J. DeBartolo Sr.
    1989 : Richard L. Duchossois
    1994 : Eddie Arcaro/Johnny Longden
    1995 : Russell Baze
    1998 : Oak Tree Racing Association
    1999 : Laffit Pincay, Jr.
    2000 : John Hettinger
    2001 : Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum
    2002 : Keeneland Library
    2004 : Dale Baird
    2005 : Cash Is King Racing Stable
    2006 : Roy and Gretchen Jackson and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at New Bolton Center
    2007 : Kentucky Horse Park

  10. He was successful because of high turnover. But for the turnover to work out, he slaughtered in a big way.
    I say absolutely no when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

  11. mattygee says:

    I guess nearly everyone feels the same way–Dale Baird doesn’t belong in the Hall Of Fame. Any trainer that sends horses to slaughter should not be “honored” for their work.

  12. coeurdefer says:

    larwobe:

    I can only conclude, based on my logic skills that since the majority of posters have said no to Baird in the HOF, you have “rationalized” that we can’t and no longer possess judgement skills.

    Interesting. What thinking skills do you possess that we don’t?

    I’m not judging him; I have an opinion and you didn’t answer the “to kill with bute” question. That, Sir/Ma’am is an ethics question and affects those individuals eating that meat. I also said he didn’t do anything illegal, but it certainly isn’t honorable behavior by Mr. Baird for those athletes he disposed of in that fashion. But once again, I am assuming you believe in human consumption horse slaughter because a horse is only as good as it’s last race or breeding crop, regardless of their recognized life span and service.

    I look at horses as willing servants for humans; you look at them as hay-burners when they can no longer be considered useful…sad thinking, really and very consistent with Mr. Baird’s modus operendi. Not surprised you don’t GET IT with the dig at posters that don’t agree with you. It’s the same mindset.

  13. coeurdefer says:

    I say we encourage Baird’s entry into the HOF with an asterisk…just like those in baseball, football that have used and abused. Did they do it? Absolutely! Asterisk denotes, questionable behavoir or use of modern technology. That being said, we will have to leave historical truth to the generations to follow us. I don’t believe they will find Baird or Sosa, and others in any more of a favorable light…but let’s just keep the focus on the destination….not the journey.

  14. Chris Lally says:

    The horse trainers are the assistants to the athletes and the horses are the athletes. I think we should not look up to a trainer or coach who abused his athletes. It would be like putting a gymnastics trainer in the gymnastics hall of fame after abusing the youngsters he was in charge of.

    The Hall of Fame is place where our heros are enshrined. As I go through the museum on Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs, I do not want to be reminded of the thousands of nameless Excellers because of Dale Baird’s plaque. No thank you, I would rather not.

  15. I agree that Baird does not belong in the HOF. But where do the HOF entry standards say that his sending horses to slaughter should be taken into account? A voter is not supposed to use their personal opinions. As for Baird running through several hundred horses a year, how is this different from Lukas, Pletcher and others who go thru a lot of horses?

  16. you guys are pathetic, where do you think he got these horses from?… HOF trainers dropping horses into his barn… but lets only blame him… its the way the industry works… and for one, he never sold direct to the slaughter houses, he sold to auctions, where meat buyers would show up…

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