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