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Ranking the Best Horses, Jockeys & Trainers of the Last 50 Years

by Jon White

December 21, 2017

Bob Ehalt recently conducted polls for Thoroughbred Racing Commentary that asked various people involved in the sport who they believed to be the best horses, jockeys and trainers to compete in North America over the last 50 years. The results were announced last week.

Participants in the three polls included a wide range of people with extensive experience in the racing industry, such as track executives, publicists, media members, handicappers, trainers, formers jockeys and horse owners. I was honored to be one of the 45 voters.

Regarding the parameters of the vote, in fairness to those who competed at the far end of the last 50 years, if anyone competed in 1967, their entire body of work was taken into consideration. This way all of the races and wins by horses and jockeys such as Buckpasser and Bill Hartack were included.

The vote also was limited to horses, trainers and jockeys who spent the bulk of their career in North America. Do not look for Aidan O’Brien or Goldikova, Ehalt noted.

I recently contacted Ehalt and asked him, “What was the genesis for conducting these polls on horses, jockeys and trainers?”

“On the genesis of the idea, I first presented it in the spring, because of Arrogate,” Ehalt replied. “My thought was to have two polls on the Top 10 horses to see where he stood among the all-time greats. One would be taken entering the Breeders’ Cup and the second after his final race. At the time, I, like a lot of other people, thought Arrogate was only running against history to see where he would be remembered.

“After the loss in the Pacific Classic, a final decision was made to expand to jockeys, trainers and horses and to do it after the Breeders’ Cup to give Arrogate a chance at regaining some lost glory.

“Looking back, it probably worked out better using all three categories because it increased the overall conversation by building interest in the polls over the course of a week.”

I also asked Ehalt what surprised him the most regarding the result of the three polls.

“The biggest surprise for me was the trainers’ poll, with Bob Baffert fourth and D. Wayne Lukas fifth,” Ehalt said. “I had them 1-2 on my ballot. Lukas, in particular, was left off a surprisingly high number of ballots. That was reflected in Baffert and Lukas each having the second-highest total of first-place votes (six) but Lukas finishing 18 points behind Baffert and 32 behind Bobby Frankel, who had only four first-place votes.”

Each voter in the three polls was asked to submit their Top 10, in order of preference, from No. 1 down to No. 10. Points were awarded on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.

MY TOP 10 HORSES

1. Secretariat
2. Spectacular Bid
3. Dr. Fager
4. Seattle Slew
5. Affirmed
6. Ruffian
7. Forego
8. American Pharoah
9. Buckpasser
10. Damascus

THE PANEL’S TOP 10 HORSES

Horse (points in parenthesis)

1. Secretariat, 31 first-place votes (423)
2. Seattle Slew, 3 first-place votes (287)
3. Dr. Fager, 7 first-place votes (278)
4. Spectacular Bid, 2 first-place votes (240)
5. Forego (224)
6. Affirmed (183)
7. American Pharoah (125)
8. Cigar, 2 first-place votes (102)
9. John Henry (101)
10. Buckpasser (97)

OTHER HORSES TO RECEIVE VOTES

11. Zenyatta (79)
12. Ruffian (70)
13. Damascus (61)
14. Personal Ensign (40)
15. Alydar (29)
16. Ghostzapper (27)
17. Sunday Silence (19)
18. Arrogate (14)
19. Ack Ack (12)
19. Rachel Alexandra (12)
21. Holy Bull (11)
22. Beholder (5)
22. Genuine Risk (5)
22. Point Given (5)
25. Native Diver (4)
26. Curlin (3)
26. Easy Goer (3)
26. Go for Wand (3)
26. Serena’s Song (3)
30. Skip Away (2)
30. Ta Wee (2)
30. Tiznow (2)
33. Alysheba (1)
33. Fort Marcy (1)
33. Lure (1)
33. Manila (1)
33. Shuvee (1)

MY TOP 10 JOCKEYS

1. Bill Shoemaker
2. Laffit Pincay Jr.
3. Angel Cordero Jr.
4. Bill Hartack
5. Braulio Baeza
6. Steve Cauthen
7. Mike Smith
8. Gary Stevens
9. Chris McCarron
10. Jerry Bailey

THE PANEL’S TOP 10 JOCKEYS

Jockey (points in parenthesis)

1. Bill Shoemaker, 21 first-place votes (370)
2. Laffit Pincay Jr., 8 first-place votes (338)
3. Angel Cordero Jr., 8 first-place votes (331)
4. Jerry Bailey, 1 first-place vote (202)
5. Chris McCarron (168)
6. Mike Smith, 3 first-place votes (162)
7. Bill Hartack, 2 first-place votes (155)
8. Pat Day (134)
9. Braulio Baeza, 1 first-place vote (113)
10. John Velazquez, 1 first-place vote (84)

OTHER JOCKEYS TO RECEIVE VOTES

11. Gary Stevens (76)
12. Eddie Delahoussaye (72)
13. Steve Cauthen (48)
14. Ramon Dominguez (40)
15. Jorge Velazquez (38)
16. Manuel Ycaza (26)
17. Javier Castellano (21)
18. Russell Baze (16)
19. Julie Krone (14)
20. Chris Antley (13)
21. Garrett Gomez (11)
22. Sandy Hawley (9)
22. John L. Rotz (9)
24. Darrel McHargue (8)
25. Ron Turcotte (7)
25. Jacinto Vasquez (7)
27. Don Pierce (6)
28. Earlie Fires (5)
29. Kent Desormeaux (4)
30. John Lively (3)
30. Ismael Valenzuela (3)
32. Edgar Prado (2)
33. Bobby Ussery (1)

MY TOP 10 TRAINERS

1. Charlie Whittingham
2. Bob Baffert
3. Laz Barrera
4. D. Wayne Lukas
5. Woody Stephens
6 Bobby Frankel
7. Allen Jerkens
8. Frank Whiteley Jr.
9. Bill Mott
10. Todd Pletcher

THE PANEL’S TOP 10 TRAINERS

Trainer (points in parenthesis)

1. Charlie Whittingham, 15 first-place votes (357)
2. Woody Stephens, 4 first-place votes (274)
3. Bobby Frankel, 4 first-place votes (262)
4. Bob Baffert, 6 first-place votes (248)
5. D. Wayne Lukas, 6 first-place votes (230)
6. Allen Jerkens, 6 first-place votes (223)
7. Laz Barrera (107)
8. Bill Mott (93)
9. Frank Whiteley Jr. (91)
10. Todd Pletcher (89)

OTHER TRAINERS TO RECEIVE VOTES

11. John Nerud, 3 first-place votes (84)
12. Shug McGaughery (64)
13. Hirsch Jacobs (53)
14. Richard Mandella (52)
15. Jack Van Berg (41)
16. Horatio Luro, 1 first-place vote (31)
17. Mack Miller (24)
18. Eddie Neloy (20)
19. Steve Asmussen (17)
20. Frank Martin (16)
21. Ron McAnally (15)
22. Jerry Hollendorfer (14)
23. Angel Penna Sr. (13)
24. Neil Drysdale (8)
25. Carl Hanford (7)
26. Elliott Burch (6)
26. Carl Nafzger (6)
26. P.G. Johnson (6)
29. Chad Brown (4)
29. John Gaver Sr. (4)
29. Lucien Laurin (4)
29. King Leatherbury (4)
33. Scotty Schulhofer (3)
34. Marion Van Berg (2)
35. Dale Baird (1)
35. Gordon Campbell (1)
35. Richard Hazelton (1)
35. LeRoy Jolley (1)
35. David Whitely (1)