Greeted by a standing ovation as he stepped to the podium, and cheered by a capacity crowd as he was fitted with his blue blazer, Maryland trainer King Leatherbury led the class of inductees into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame on Friday.
Leatherbury was joined by the late jockeys Chris Antley and Vincent Powers; horses Lava Man, Xtra Heat and Billy Kelly; and prominent breeder-owners Alfred G. Vanderbilt of Maryland and John Hay Whitney during a ceremony at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion across the street from Saratoga Race Course.
Leatherbury, a legendary figure on the Mid-Atlantic circuit and one of only four trainers to top 6,000 career wins, was inducted in his first year on the ballot. At 82, he becomes the third-oldest person to be enshrined, behind fellow trainers “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons and Carl Hanford.
“This really is a tremendous award. I'm deeply honored and proud to be here,” Leatherbury said. “They tell me I'm the third-oldest to get in. Well, it's not the winner, but it's pretty good.”
The still-active Leatherbury has won 6,457 races, including 52 training titles in his native Maryland over a 56-year career. He bred, owns and trains 9-year-old gelding Ben's Cat, a winner of 29 races — 24 of them stakes — and more than $2.4million in purse earnings.
Antley, who died in 2000 at 34, won 3,480 races in a career cut short by addiction. He captured the Kentucky Derby twice and Preakness once, won at least one race for 64 consecutive racing days in 1989, and won a world-record nine races in one day in 1987.
“Thank you for providing a very profound healing opportunity for our family,” said his widow, Natalie Jowett Antley. “It shows what can happen when you push fear aside and let love win.”
Lava Man won 17 races, including seven Grade 1 races, and more than $5.2 million. Xtra Heat won 26 of 35 starts, all but one in stakes company, setting a modern-day record for fillies or mares.
Powers and Billy Kelly were chosen for induction by the Hall of Fame's Historic Review Committee. Vanderbilt and Whitney were elected in the Pillars of the Turf category.
Vanderbilt, who lived from 1912 to 1999, took over the 600-acre Sagamore Farm in Glyndon at the age of 21 from his mother and rose to national prominence as the owner of Hall of Famer Discovery, who he bought for $25,000.
While still in his 20s, Vanderbilt purchased and took over management of Pimlico Race Course, was elected to The Jockey Club and brokered the famous match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral in the Pimlico Special.
In 1940, Vanderbilt took on the added duties of running Belmont Park, presiding over New York's transition from bookmakers to pari-mutuel betting.
Vanderbilt later campaigned champions Next Move, Bed o' Roses, Now What, Petrify and his most famous horse, Native Dancer.