There are years when voting for racing's Hall of Fame is an excruciating exercise involving close calls among horses, jockeys and trainers from different eras to come up with the maximum of four inductees.
This is not one of those years.
When Hall of Fame voting begins in the weeks ahead, the ballot for the Class of 2016 will include four names that have never been on it before: Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta on the equine side and Steve Asmussen and Ramon Dominguez among the humans. Rarely if ever have there been four such overwhelmingly deserving candidates in their first year of eligibility.
Fortunately, another battle royale between supporters of the two great fillies will not be necessary. Until a few years ago, only one candidate in each of four categories (trainer, jockey, male horse and female horse) could be elected each year, and voters would have had to choose between them, much as they did when Rachel Alexandra outpolled Zenyatta by a 130-99 tally for the bitterly contested 2009 Horse of the Year title.
Now, however, with the categories abandoned, there need be no more rancor or competition. Anyone who fails to vote for them both should be taken out back and spayed or neutered.
Both should, of course, be unanimous selections. Reciting their accomplishments seems superfluous, but let's do it anyway. In 2009, Rachel Alexandra beat males in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward and thrashed fillies by 20-1/4 lengths in the Kentucky Oaks and 19-1/4 lengths in the Mother Goose. Zenyatta won 19 of her 20 career starts, including 13 Grade 1 races, and her 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic victory is the only triumph in that race by a filly or mare.
Rachel Alexandra's 2009 campaign was one of the greatest by any filly in racing history, and Zenyatta's accomplishments during four seasons amounted to one of the sport's greatest careers. It is only right that they walk into the Hall together.
Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are both eligible for the first time this year because they both last raced in 2010, and horses must be retired for five full years before being considered. The rules for humans are more complex, and unusual circumstances made Asmussen and Dominguez eligible this year for the first time.
Asmussen, who at the end of 2015 ranked second among all trainers in career victories (7,185) and fourth in purses won ($239.1 million), should have been a slam dunk when he was first eligible in 2014, but the Hall of Fame's executives removed him from the ballot pending the resolution of complaints filed against him by animal-rights activists. Those charges were finally deemed baseless after exhaustive Kentucky and New York investigations, and he was restored to eligibility.
It's a shame that Asmussen couldn't be inducted alongside his two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, but now the voters can send him in with his other great runner, Rachel Alexandra. In addition to those two, Asmussen trained the champions Kodiak Kowboy, My Miss Aurelia, and Untapable and has won more than 60 training titles, including 17 at Churchill Downs.
Jockeys are usually required either to be licensed 20 years or to wait five years after retirement, but the Hall's executive committee waived that requirement for Dominguez this month due to his suffering a career-ending injury in 2013. It seemed absurd to make him wait another three years for consideration when he would have been eligible for consideration beginning this year if not for the injury.
Dominguez was at the peak of his profession when his career ended after he fractured his skull in a spill at Aqueduct in January 2013. He had led the nation in earnings for three straight years, winning the Eclipse Award each time, and was first or second nationally in wins an astounding 12 different times. Dominguez finished his career with 4,985 victories from 21,267 mounts, a 23 percent strike rate, and earnings of $191.6 million.
There may well be other worthy nominees on this year's ballot, but since the inductee list is limited to four, they almost certainly will have to wait at least one more year until this quartet of giants has deservedly cut the line.