Zito, Walsh, Watters, Lonesome Glory elected to Hall of Fame
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y
Trainer Nick Zito and three standouts of steeplechase racing, jockey Thomas Walsh, trainer Sidney Watters Jr. and five-time champion Lonesome Glory, comprise the Class of 2005 to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame.
Museum president John von Stade announced today the four newest members of the Hall of Fame, which is in its 50th anniversary year. They will be formally inducted in public ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 8 at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs.
Zito, a native of New York City, is a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, has won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and 20 other Grade I stakes in a career that began in 1972. Through May 30, Zito had recorded 1,410 victories – 83 of them in graded stakes - and earned $69.3 million in purse money.
Watters, who also was a very successful trainer of horses that ran in flat races, led or shared the lead in steeplechase victories in a season six times between 1948 and 1971. He led steeplechase trainers in purse money won three times.
During his 12-year career as a steeplechase rider, Walsh recorded 253 victories, fifth on the career list. He was the leading jockey in races won twice and was the regular rider of champions Barnaby's Bluff, Bon Nouvel and Mako. Walsh won the prestigious Grand National Steeplechase a record five consecutive years.
Lonesome Glory, a son of Transworld raced by the late Mrs. Walter Jeffords Jr., won 24 of 44 career starts between 1991 and 1999 and is the leading money-earning horse in steeplechase history with $1.4 million.
Watters, Walsh and Lonesome Glory are the first steeplechase inductees since 1997.
The trustees of the National Museum of Racing approved changes to rules in 2004 requiring nominees to the Hall of Fame to receive at least 75 percent of the votes cast to qualify for induction. Previously, the leading vote-getter in each of the four categories, trainer, jockey, contemporary male and contemporary female, was inducted. Zito was the only nominee in the flat racing division to receive the required percentage.
A total of 163 ballots were mailed to Hall of Fame voters.
"Through the years questions have been asked about the voting process and why each one of the categories had to have an inductee every year," said Edward L. Bowen, chairman of the Hall of Fame Committee. "The trustees listened to these comments, a subcommittee took a look at what other halls of fame used as a standard for induction and changed the requirements. As you can see from the results of the vote it is difficult but not impossible to reach racing's Hall of Fame."
To be eligible for consideration as a nominee, a trainer must be licensed for 25 years, an active jockey must have ridden for 15 years and a horse must be retired for five years. In 2006, the minimum requirement for eligibility for a jockey moves to 20 years.
The Steeplechase Committee of the Hall of Fame met this year and selected inductees in all three categories. The 12-person committee considered a list of nominees. Members of the committee took part in a conference call to discuss the nominees and later cast votes to
determine a finalist in each category. To earn induction, the finalist had to receive at least 75 percent of the votes cast in a second ballot. The Steeplechase Committee, which meets every other odd-numbered year, will next consider nominees in 2009.
The Hall of Fame schedule calls for the Historic Review Committee to meet every even-numbered year.
Zito, 57, began his career as a hotwalker and later served as an assistant trainer for Johnny Campo and LeRoy Jolley before he opened a two-horse stable in 1972. He saddled his first winner, Palais, at Liberty Bell in December of that year. His first Grade I winner was Ride Sally, who captured the Top Flight Handicap on April 26, 1986 at Aqueduct.
In 1991 Zito won the Kentucky Derby with Strike the Gold. He won his second Derby with Go for Gin in 1994. Louis Quatorze was the winner of the Preakness in 1996, equaling the stakes record. Birdstone gave Zito his first Belmont Stakes win in 2004, defeating Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones. Two months later, Birdstone also won the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Zito has trained two champions, Storm Song in 1996 and Bird Town in 2003.
When he was notified that he was elected to the Hall of Fame, Zito said he was honored to be chosen.
"It's very gratifying, but more important, I'm very humbled by it," he said. "I don't know what else to say. I absolutely really appreciate it. That's the main thing."
Watters, 87, was born in Baltimore. He is retired and lives on his farm in Monkton, Md.
His father and uncle were amateur steeplechase riders in their youth and Watters followed them into the sport. He won about 50 races between 1935 and 1941 before turning to training for Richard Mellon. After flying some 40 missions as a gunner on a B-24 in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, Watters resumed training on a full-time basis, again for Mellon.
In 1954, he began a long association with the stable of Mr. and Mrs. Steven C. Clark Jr. For the Clarks, he developed the outstanding flat runners Hoist the Flag, the 2-year-old champ in 1970; and the multiple stakes winner Love Sign, as well as two steeplechase champions: Amber Diver, named the champion by both the Daily Racing Form and the TRA in 1963, and Shadow Brook, who was the first Steeplechase Eclipse Award winner in 1971.
Also, Watters trained Slew o’ Gold and Slewpy.
Watters was the national leader in races won in 1951, 1956, 1961 and 1963 and shared the title in 1948 and 1971.
Walsh, 65, is a native of Great Neck, N.Y. and has been active in racing for 49 years. He lives in Muttontown, N.Y. and operates a stable based at Belmont Park.
It was no accident that Walsh found his way to steeplechase racing. Walsh’s father operated a riding academy in Great Neck and his uncle, Mickey Walsh, was in the midst of a Hall of Fame training career. During winter vacations Walsh visited his uncle’s training center in Southern Pines, N.C, and learned how to school horses. He said he made his debut at the Stoneybrook Hunt Meet in 1956. Walsh decided to quit riding when he was 27 years old in 1967 and turned to training the next year.
Walsh acknowledged that he was surprised to be elected to the Hall of Fame 38 years after his final ride.
"I never thought I would get in," he said.
Walsh won The Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase, the richest and most important race of its day, three times. In 1965 he rode Bon Nouvel, who finished first while carrying 170 pounds. Walsh also won the Saratoga Steeplechase Handicap four times, but says he is most proud of his five-year streak in the Grand National.
"Nobody had ever done it or ever will," Walsh said. "It's like winning five Kentucky Derbies in a row."
Lonesome Glory competed in a steeplechase race for the first time in his fourth career start on Oct. 12, 1991 and promptly broke his maiden by two lengths. He won the first of his record number of five titles in as a 4-year-old in 1992, a season that concluded with a victory over hurdles at Cheltenham in England. Lonesome Glory earned his final title as an 11-year-old in 1999 with a pair of Grade I victories. He won 19 jump races, 17 in the U.S. and two in England, from 35 starts and was the first steeplechase horse to earn over $1 million.
"We were lucky to have him as long as we did," said Mrs. Jeffords’ daughter, Sally Jeffords Radcliffe. "He was a very intelligent horse. He only won by as much as he needed to. He was very smart. He never overextended himself."
Three years into his retirement, Lonesome Glory was found to have injured himself in a stall accident at trainer F. Bruce Miller’s farm. When efforts failed to repair the broken bone in his left hind leg he was euthanized on Feb. 25, 2002. He was 14.
Click here to view images of Zito, Watters and Lonesome Glory