Todd Pletcher, American Pharoah Among Horse Racing’s 2021 Hall of Fame Class

Talk about a Hall of Fame trifecta. Triple Crown–winning racehorse American Pharoah, seven-time Eclipse Award–winning trainer Todd Pletcher and 13-time champion steeplechase trainer Jack Fisher make up this year’s National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame class. American Pharoah and Pletcher were elected in the contemporary category in their first year of eligibility, and Fisher was chosen by the museum’s Steeplechase Review Committee, which meets once every four years.

The induction ceremony will take place at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion at 10:30am on Friday, August 6, and will also include the 2020 inductees—trainer Mark Casse; jockey Darrel McHargue; horses Tom Bowling and Wise Dan; and Pillars of the Turf Alice Headley Chandler, J. Keene Daingerfield, Jr. and George D. Widener, Jr.—whose induction was canceled due to the pandemic. The ceremony will be broadcast live on the museum website, and an announcement about whether the public will be allowed to attend will be made at a later date.

This year’s class is one of the most iconic in recent memory. American Pharoah ended racing’s 37-year Triple Crown drought when he swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 2015. A bay colt bred in Kentucky by owner Zayat Stables, American Pharoah was trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and ridden by Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza. Beginning his career in California, American Pharoah won the Eclipse Award for Champion 2-Year-Old Male in 2014, thanks to Grade 1 victories in the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner Stakes.

During his 3-year-old season, American Pharoah continued his winning ways, taking the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, before becoming America’s 12th Triple Crown winner. Following the Triple Crown series, the rest was gravy, with American Pharoah going on to win the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, setting a track record of 2:00.07 for 1¼ miles at Keeneland in the Classic. Overall, American Pharoah posted a record of 9-1-0 from 11 starts and earned $8,650,300. He was voted Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male for 2015.

“He’s certainly among the all-time greats,” says Baffert. “I don’t think there is any question about that. He did everything so effortlessly and with such class. The way he moved, his mechanics were absolutely flawless. He also has such a wonderful personality. Pharoah is really a sweet and kind horse and he loves humans. I went and saw him the other day [at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud], and he looks as good as he’s ever looked, if not better. Winning the Triple Crown with American Pharoah was the greatest sports moment of my life. It was so emotional and such a terrific thing for racing. He deserves all the accolades he gets.”

Trainer Pletcher, 53, a native of Dallas, went out on his own after working as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas from 1989 through 1995. He won his first race in January 1996 with Majestic Number at Gulfstream Park. A graduate of the University of Arizona, he owns records for career earnings ($405,791,977) and Eclipse Awards (seven) and ranks seventh all time in wins (5,118). He has won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017) and the Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013) and Tapwrit (2017). Pletcher has won 11 Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2019 Classic with Vino Rosso. (That year, he also graced the cover of Saratoga Living magazine, topping off our American horse racing “Power List.”) Additionally, he’s led all North American trainers in earnings 10 times.

Pletcher has also trained 11 Eclipse Award-winning horses—Hall of Famer Ashado, English Channel, Fleet Indian, Lawyer Ron, Left Bank, Rags to Riches, Shanghai Bobby, Speightstown, Wait a While, Uncle Mo and Vino Rosso—and 20 horses that have earned $1.8 million or more. He has won a total of 60 individual meet training titles: 17 at Gulfstream Park, 16 at Belmont Park, 14 at Saratoga Race Course, six at Aqueduct, five at Keeneland, and two at Monmouth.

According to Equibase data, Pletcher has won 708 graded stakes, including 166 Grade 1s. He is enjoying another standout year in 2021 with 81 wins and earnings of $7,686,786 through May 4. He recently won the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks for the fourth time in his career with the undefeated Malathaat. Pletcher has also won four or more editions of the Beldame, Champagne, Coaching Club American Oaks, Florida Derby, Mother Goose, Spinaway, Spinster, and Wood Memorial, among others. He has won four Canadian Triple Crown races.

“I’m really humbled to be elected to the Hall of Fame,” says Pletcher. “It’s an incredible honor and something that doesn’t happen without having great support around you. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a great team to work with and my family has been there every step of the way. There have been so many great owners who have trusted me with their horses and those horses have meant everything to me. Along with my family and team, I had amazing opportunities to learn from the likes of Wayne and Jeff Lukas and working winters alongside Kiaran McLaughlin, who taught me a lot about horses and also how to work with owners and communication skills. It really was a stroke of good fortune to come up with people like that around me.” He adds: “Training horses is all I ever wanted to do. I remember being 11 or 12 and telling my mom I wanted to train and she said it was wonderful. From that point on with her endorsement I never thought of doing anything else.”

Not to be outdone, Jack Fisher, 57, a native of Unionville, PA, won his first race as a trainer in 1988 at Middleburg, VA, with Call Louis and has been a consistently dominant force atop the National Steeplechase Association standings for the past 20 years. Fisher topped all steeplechase trainers in wins for the first time in 2003 and has led the list an additional 12 times since. In 2004, he led the earnings list for the first of eight times to date. Fisher has ranked in the top five in both NSA wins and earnings each of the past 20 years. Through May 4, Fisher has won 593 career steeplechase races and ranks second all time in purse earnings with more than $17.8 million (behind only recently retired Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard).

Fisher is the only trainer in steeplechase history to surpass $1 million in purse earnings in a year, something he has accomplished five times. He trained two-time Eclipse Award winner and Hall of Fame member Good Night Shirt, one of only three horses to earn $1 million in steeplechase racing (along with Hall of Famers Lonesome Glory and McDynamo). Good Night Shirt won a total of 10 graded stakes, including eight Grade 1 events, and twice set the single-season NSA earnings record. Fisher also trained Eclipse Award winners Scorpiancer (2017) and Moscato (2020). He has trained an additional 18 horses that have won NSA division championships: timber champions Bubble Economy, Call Louis, Charlie’s Dewan, Doc Cebu, Gus’s Boy, Saluter and Two’s Company; novice champions All Together, Paradise’s Boss, Moscato and Snap Decision; filly and mare champions Footlights and Ivy Mills; and 3-year-old champions Hope For Us All, Ice It, Machete Road, Schoodic and South Of Java.

Fisher has won the Temple Gwathmey six times (including 2021 with Snap Decision), five editions of the Iroquois, four runnings of the A. P. Smithwick, three renewals of the Lonesome Glory and both the Colonial Cup and Grand National twice. With timber champion Saluter, Fisher won six consecutive editions of the Virginia Gold Cup and four runnings of the Virginia Hunt Cup. Fisher has won the Virginia Gold Cup 12 times as a trainer and nine times as a rider—both records. Fisher rode Saluter to each of his Gold Cup victories. According to Equibase, Fisher won 57 races as a jockey with earnings of $953,243, including $394,189 as Saluter’s pilot.

“I’ve always loved being around horses,” says Fisher. “It’s been my life. I was terrible in school and didn’t want to be there. I loved riding and I love training. I learned a lot from my father (trainer John Fisher) and from guys like (Hall of Fame trainers) Mikey Smithwick and Tommy Voss. They were examples to me of the work it takes to be successful and also how they built a good team. You can’t do it alone.” He adds: “I’ll never forget horses like Call Louis and Woody Boy Would and Saluter that made my career at the beginning. They got the ball rolling for me. Saluter was really the one. My license plate says Saluter on it. He meant everything. I’ve had some wonderful and patient owners and great talent in the barn. To have horses like Good Night Shirt, Scorpiancer, Moscato, and Snap Decision has been incredible beyond words. I’m pretty darn lucky.”

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