Rod Ratcliff, casino and racetrack owner and developer, and Jim Elliott, longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder, were inducted into the Indiana Horse Racing Association (IHRA) Hall of Fame Monday, Nov. 4 during a special ceremony held at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino. Ratcliff and Elliott were the 16th and 17th individuals to join the prestigious Hall honoring those who made long lasting and substantial contributions to horse racing in Indiana.
Hosted by Rachel McLaughlin and Emily Gaskin, on-air racing personalities for Indiana Grand and Harrah’s Hoosier Park, respectively, several hundred people gathered for the event. Jon Schuster, vice president and general manager and member of IHRA, provided a quick history of the organization and gave some background on the implementation of the IHRA Hall of Fame.
“The IHRA was formed in 2014 with the intent to represent all three racing breeds in the state,” said Schuster. “The addition of the Hall of Fame was actually a brainchild of one of the inductees tonight, Rod Ratcliff. The diligence, achievements, and successes of the industry needed an outlet to reward those who have brought the sport to where it is today.”
Schuster read a list of previous inductees, which includes the Honorable Lawrence M. Borst, DVM, Michael G. Schaefer (posthumously), Honorable Dick Thompson, Ralph Wilfong (posthumously), Harold Barnes, Mari Hulman George, Senator Robert Jackman, DVM, Don Myers (posthumously), Honorable Howard “Luke” Kenley, Lynn George Wilfong, Raymond “Steve” Panke (posthumously), Sarah McNaught and Howard Clark “Pete” Peterson (posthumously).
Elliott, who passed away in early 2016, was inducted posthumously and was represented by numerous friends and family members.
Born in 1941, Elliott and his wife, Amy, built up a Thoroughbred training and breeding business from the ground up at their farm in Brookston, Ind with their children Michelle and Jason. Elliott had an innate ability to seek out and identify true talent in racehorses and developed a national reputation as a seller and buyer at some of the country’s biggest sales. As a result, he was able to bring both notoriety and breeding stock into the state, which helped lay the groundwork for the current breeding programs for horse racing.
Elliott was an initial member of the Indiana Breed Development Advisory Committee appointed by the Governor and was an active director of the Indiana Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. He was instrumental in implementing the Two-Year-Old Sale in Indiana. Since his passing, his wife, Amy, has continued operations on the farm and his daughter, Michelle, now trains horses for the family’s stable.
“Jim and Amy were together at every sale and every race,” said Tom Mosley, friend of the Elliott’s. “And, it all started in Brookston, Ind. Now, Michelle is carrying on the Elliott name as trainer and in her third year, she just surpassed $1 million in earnings. Jim would be so proud to know that fact.”
The official IHRA resolution to induct Jim into the Hall of Fame was presented by Herb Likens, who has had a longstanding partnership with the Elliott family as a breeder and owner.
“Both Jim and Rod are the two best friends a guy could ever ask for,” added Likens. “I commend the nominating committee for inducting two such outstanding individuals. Both inductees are very fitting into what the Hall of Fame represents for Indiana horse racing.”
The second half of the ceremony was directed to the induction of Ratcliff. Jim Purucker, president of John Frick and Associates, provided an introduction of the man behind many accomplishments in the Indiana horse racing industry over the past two decades.
“Rod has never been a CEO who stayed in the board room or his office,” said Purucker. “Everyone has had unparalleled access to him, and I’ve had the good fortune to be a spectator to most of his success. His partnership with Churchill Downs was very crucial in the early stages of racing, and he was also involved in the initial efforts to bring resources into slots at tracks. Rod has always taken the long view of the deal and never reneged on his word. He has received many awards but his inclusion in this Hall of Fame probably means the most due to his commitment to the entire racing industry.”
The official resolution for the induction of Ratcliff into the IHRA Hall of Fame was read by John Keeler, vice president and general counsel of Spectacle Entertainment, Ratcliff’s current company. Keeler noted his early prowess and entrepreneurship as a successful businessman with transportation, agribusiness, commodities and casino gaming. He walked the crowd through a timeline created by Ratcliff as owner of Centaur Gaming, acquiring control of Hoosier Park and later adding Indiana Grand to the company. In the process, Rod created in excess of 2,000 jobs and contributing more than $1 billion annually to the state’s economy. Keeler also pointed out Ratcliff’s various philanthropic causes such as a major gift to Purdue University for the construction of the Centaur Equine Specialty Hospital, just minutes from Indiana Grand.
“Rod developed a relationship of trust and respect with hard working and dedicated men and women of the Indiana horse industry,” added Keeler. “Combined with his skillful legislative advocacy, he enabled the passage of legislation allowing gaming at racetracks which provided a stable source of revenue to support Indiana horse racing and breeding.”
Keeler ended by showcasing several of Ratcliff’s awards over the years, including a finalist for Ernst & Young Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year, Columbian of the Year by the Columbia Club, Man of the Year by Gilpin County in Colorado, the Pinnacle Award from the Indiana Standardbred Association and more recently the prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash presented by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb.
Ratcliff was greeted with a standing ovation as he made his way to the podium following the induction.
“It is a real honor to be up here with Jim Elliott,” said Ratcliff. “My grandfather had 21 ponies and four horses when I was growing up. I never dreamed horses would have done for me what has been accomplished. This is the greatest honor because it is the core of what we created. I spent many nights talking to Steve Panke and Ralph Wilfong and learning about the business from real pyramids of horse racing. I never thought I’d be on that wall with them.”
Ratcliff went on to talk about the initial stages of pari-mutuel racing in the state and he realized early on it needed to move to a next level.
“They (Panke and Wilfong) all had what was needed for Indiana, but I had a much bigger picture,” added Ratcliff. “We were able to take it and fuel it. We needed something because there was a lot of competition coming from other areas, and we had the right recipe, but we had to do the right thing by the horsemen. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Ratcliff realized the huge economic impact horse racing had on the state. As a result of his leadership, Indiana has been at the forefront of states integrating gaming and racing.
“We have done it better than anyone else because we all worked together,” said Ratcliff. “It’s been a heck of a ride and has always been enjoyable. We are still working hard for horse racing in the legislature. We have your back and we are looking out for you. This is an industry I will never turn my back on.”
Both the portrait of Elliott and Ratcliff was unveiled during the ceremony. Portraits were provided by artist Melinda Spear-Huff of Sheridan, Ind.