HALL OF ZERO

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am

By Ray Paulick


Last Monday was the National Museum of Racing's big day, when induction ceremonies were held for the newest members of the racing Hall of Fame. This year's inductees included trainer Carl Nafzger, jockey Edgar Prado, and a full complement of horses.


A number of previous Hall of Fame inductees usually show up for the annual ceremonies, giving racing fans a rare opportunity to meet and greet many of the sport's riding and training legends. It's a wonderful day for the fans, many of whom travel a great distance to see the ceremonies.


It's also interesting how the racing Hall of Fame induction usually come right on the heels of the Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., and the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Canton, Ohio. Both of those events, not surprisingly, attract larger crowds and get far more media attention. Racing takes a back seat to other sports in that regard.


Frankly, the National Museum of Racing is not a very professional organization, from the standpoint of how it spends its money. Its philosophy of only honoring jockeys, trainers and horses also seems short-sighted.

According to www.CharityNavigator.com, a Web site that rates how various charities perform and how they spend their money, the National Museum of Racing gets “zero” stars out of four (and an overall rating of 22.09) for its most recent tax year published, 2006. The museum spent more on administration — $1,163,140 — than it did on programs to support its non-profit mission — $818,730. It spent another $261,455 on fund-raising. The museum lost money in 2006, with expenses of $2,243,325 and revenue of just $2,021,371.


Museum executives say they have a difficult challenge, located as they are in a small town. Not that Cooperstown, N.Y., or Canton, Ohio, are thriving metropolises, but Saratoga Springs is a sleepy town during the 46 weeks that the Saratoga racetrack is not in operation.


But let's compare the National Museum of Racing to what the American Quarter Horse Association runs in Amarillo, Texas, which is certainly not a major U.S. city, either. The AQHA Foundation and Museum has annual operating expenses of $4,175,793, but spends only $723,865 on administrative expenses, a considerably smaller percentage of what the racing museum in Saratoga spends. The AQHA puts $2,754,691 into the program and invests another $697,237 in fundraising. CharityNavigator.com gives the AQHA a rating of three stars (56.25 points). For 2006, the AQHA Foundation and Museum raised $8,546,735, more than double what it spent.


So the National Museum of Racing gets very poor rating for how it spends its money. If the museum had dynamic leadership or cutting edge programs you might say it would be worth it to spend so much on salaries for administrators. But that isn't the case. The museum is anything but dynamic.


Anyone who has been to the National Museum of Racing more than once in the last several years will find many of its displays old and tired. Most of the Hall of Fame plaques, which are written up long before a jockey or trainer is retired, are outdated. And the policy of only admitting jockeys, trainers and horses reflects poorly on the museum, which is out of step with museums in other sports that also honor broadcasters, journalists, and team owners.


Even the election procedures for the Racing Hall of Fame are inferior to other sports. Modifications were made in the Racing Hall of Fame election process when complaints surfaced among some voters, but the changes left the Hall of Fame in the embarrassing position of having no one elected in some years, and further changes were made. Now, the rules ensure one human or equine will be elected in every division, but critics say some divisions have more than one worthy inductee, and that the rules should allow more than one to be elected per division in a given year. The best example may be the filly and mare division, which saw the induction this year of Inside Information. However, there are several other worthy candidates, including Sky Beauty and Silverbulletday who were shut out in the voting.


Futhermore, it's amazing and sad to me that someone like Joe Hirsch, the longtime executive columnist for Daily Racing Form, does not have a place in the Hall of Fame. There is no home in the museum for some of the great owners and breeders, either, or for stallions like Mr. Prospector who made such an important mark on the game. The trustees who run the museum have never warmed to the idea of expanding the ranks of Hall of Famers.


Aside from jockeys, trainers, and horses, the only others recognized in the museum are “exemplars of racing,” and there have only been five individuals given that honor for their contributions to the game since the museum was established in 1950: George Widener, Walter Jeffords, John Hanes, Paul Mellon, and Martha Gerry. There doesn't seem to be any specific guidelines for that distinction, either. Apparently, museum president Stella Thayer made the appointment of Martha Gerry on her own in 2007, independent of museum trustees.


Exemplars are recognized by the following statement: “In all endeavors, and certainly in all sports, leaders emerge, from time to time, possessing rare and admirable qualities. Thoroughbred racing is fortunate that such dedicated leaders – Exemplars is a more appropriate word – have played a role so influential in this sport that they are forever recognized and heralded.


“The individuals named below served Thoroughbred Racing all their lives in a variety of ways. Respected by their peers, admired by racing's officials and by the public, and looked upon by all as true Exemplars of Racing they are, in order of their unanimous election by the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame Committees:”


Martha Gerry campaigned a terrific horse in Forego, and by all accounts she was good for the game, serving on the New York Racing Association board and as a member of the Jockey Club. She was also a significant financial contributor to the National Museum of Racing, according to a press release. For the life of me, though, I don't see her in the same category as the others who were honored as exemplars, and I think there are other individuals who have made greater contributions to racing who have not yet been so honored.


The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is uninspiring and capable of being so much more than it is. Under its current leadership, however, it's doubtful we'll see any change.


Perhaps someday, somewhere, someone else will see the need for a truly dynamic museum for racing and breeding, one that recognizes leading owners and breeders, outstanding journalists and other individuals who have made a significant impact on the sport.


Copyright © 2008, The Paulick Report


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