Harry Bassett was undefeated as a 3-year-old, including victories in the Belmont and Travers, and fashioned a 14-race win streak en route to becoming one of the top Thoroughbreds of the 19th century. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with trainer Buster Millerick and jockey Don Pierce on Aug. 13. The Historic Review inductees will be joined by contemporary legends Azeri, Best Pal, Point Given and Randy Romero.
By BRIEN BOUYEA
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Nineteenth century horse Harry Bassett, trainer Michael Ernest “Buster” Millerick and jockey Don Pierce have been elected to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame though the Historic Review Committee process. The Historic Review electees join horses Azeri, Best Pal and Point Given and jockey Randy Romero, elected through the Contemporary categories voting process, in the Class of 2010. The group will be inducted on Friday, August 13 in a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. at the newly renovated Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion.
A son of the mighty sire Lexington, Harry Bassett was a champion at age two in 1870, unbeaten champion at three and a top handicapper at four. He possessed tremendous stamina and won many of the most prestigious races of his day.
Bred by A.J. Alexander and raised at Woodburn Farm in Kentucky, Harry Bassett was owned and trained by Col. David McDaniel. After finishing third in his debut, Harry Bassett won the final three starts of his 2-year-old campaign. He broke his maiden in the one-mile Kentucky Stakes at Saratoga and then bested 14 rivals in the Nursery Stakes at Jerome Park before capping the year with a victory in the Supper Stakes at Pimlico.
Harry Bassett was unstoppable as a 3-year-old, winning all nine of his races. He began his sophomore campaign with a victory in the Belmont Stakes on June 10, 1871 and enjoyed a brilliant summer by winning the Jersey Derby, Travers Stakes and Kenner Stakes. His victories during that span ranged from 1½ to 2 miles. That autumn, Harry Bassett won the Champion Stakes (2 miles) and defeated older horses at distances of 1¾ miles and 2½ miles. He then bested 5-year-old standout Hembold in the Bowie Stakes at Pimlico in straight four-mile heats. The first four miles were run in 7:54¾ (1:56¼, 1:58¾, 1:58¼ and 2:01½), and the second four miles in 8:03½ (2:02½, 2:01½, 2:00 and 1:59½). Since Harry Bassett won the first two heats, there was no need for a third.
At four, Harry Bassett pushed his win streak to 14 before he was defeated in the Monmouth Cup by Longfellow. Harry Bassett rebounded to win a race at Saratoga on July 13, 1872 and then obtained revenge on Longfellow in the 2¼-mile Saratoga Cup three days later, setting a record time of 3:59. He won two more races at Saratoga that summer, giving him 17 victories in an 18-race span at that time.
The grueling schedule and distances finally caught up to Harry Bassett that fall and he was never the same. He won only three of his final 12 starts before being retired. Harry Bassett completed his career with a record of 23-5-3 from 36 starts and earnings of $55,920.
In a career that spanned almost 50 years, California native Michael Ernest “Buster” Millerick became known as one of the finest trainers on the West Coast. He saddled his first winner, Happy Fellow, on January 4, 1935, at the inaugural meeting of Santa Anita Park. Millerick went on to win training titles at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Hollywood Park and worked for many prestigious owners.
Millerick achieved his greatest success with Native Diver, a California-bred son of Imbros, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978. Under Millerick’s uninterrupted care, Native Diver won 37 races, including 34 stakes, and raced for seven seasons. As an 8-year-old, Native Diver won his third consecutive Hollywood Gold Cup, set a track record in the Del Mar Handicap and won both the Los Angeles Handicap and San Carlos Handicap.
Millerick, who earlier worked for Hall of Famer Tom Smith, won a total of 1,886 races and trained 54 individual stakes winners. Notable races won by Millerick horses include three runnings of the Bing Crosby Handicap, two editions of the Vanity Handicap and triumphs in the Del Mar Futurity, Hollywood Derby, Malibu Stakes, Milady Handicap and the Californian.
Among the notable owners Millerick worked for included Charles S. Howard, John D. Hertz, Jack Dreyfus, Nelson Bunker Hunt and DeCourcy Graham. Along with Native Diver, Millerick’s top horses included Countess Fleet, Count of Honor, Fleet Nasrullah, George Lewis and Kissin’ George.
At the time of his retirement in 1984, Millerick ranked second all-time in wins at Del Mar, fourth at Hollywood Park and fifth at Santa Anita.
Don Pierce rose from humble racing roots to become one of the big money riders of the 1960s and 1970s. A native of Clebit, Oklahoma, Pierce began his career with a victory at New Mexico’s Ruidoso Downs in 1954 and went on to become one of the most accomplished jockeys on the Southern California circuit. Furthermore, he enjoyed success at numerous tracks throughout the United States and internationally.
Pierce rode for such elite trainers as Mesh Tenney, William Molter, Charlie Whittingham and Robert Wheeler, and led all North American jockeys with 32 stakes winners in 1973. He was a force in Southern California, winning the state’s signature race for older horses, the Santa Anita Handicap, four times. Pierce also won five consecutive runnings of the Los Angeles Handicap (1969-73) as well as five runnings of the Santa Anita Oaks. He won the Del Mar Debutante and Hollywood Oaks four times each and the Del Mar Derby, Del Mar Oaks, Santa Monica Handicap, Santa Ana Handicap and Santa Margarita Handicap three times apiece.
Pierce also enjoyed plenty of success in New York. He won a riding title at Belmont Park and captured several of Saratoga’s most prestigious races, including the Hopeful and Jim Dandy.
Among Pierce’s top mounts were Flying Paster, Hill Rise, Quack, Taisez Vous, La Zanzara, Triple Bend, Kennedy Road, Modus Vivendi, Forceten, Minstrel Miss and Princessnessian, with whom he defeated males in the 1968 Hollywood Gold Cup to cap a five-winner day.
Pierce was presented the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1967. After 30 years in the saddle, Pierce retired with 3,546 wins – 351 of them stakes – from 28,740 mounts, with purse earnings of $39,018,422.
Edward L. Bowen is the chairman of the Hall of Fame’s Historic Review Committee. The 12-member Historic Review Committee considered more than 20 candidates.
The members of the committee are: Bowen; Museum historian Allan Carter; Jane Goldstein, turf writer and the retired Santa Anita Park publicist; Ken Grayson, Museum trustee; Russ Harris, handicapper and turf writer, New York Daily News; Jay Hovdey, executive columnist, Daily Racing Form; Bill Mooney, freelance writer and author; William Nack, freelance turf writer and author; Mary Simon, columnist, Thoroughbred Times; Michael Veitch, turf writer and columnist, The Saratogian; John T. von Stade, Chairman, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame; and Gary West, turf writer and columnist, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The committee reviewed and discussed the credentials of the nominees during a conference call and voted to select a finalist in each category. To be elected, the finalist was required to receive approval from at least 75 percent of the committee members.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony is free and open to the public.