By The Numbers: Hollendorfer’s Fatality Rate On Par With National Average

by | 08.05.2019 | 7:50pm
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer

Only one active Thoroughbred trainer has more lifetime starts or wins than Jerry Hollendorfer, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 2011.

Hollendorfer has won 7,625 races from 33,553 starts, second only to fellow Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, who has 8,519 wins from 41,130 starts  (The late Dale Baird won 9,445 to rank No. 1 by wins.)

Both Hollendorfer and Asmussen won most of their races in the claiming ranks, the “bread and butter” horses that fill racing programs throughout the country. Both men worked their way into stakes competition, winning major races with champion Thoroughbreds, while continuing to operate a stable with the kind of horses that gave them their start in the business.

Both Asmussen and Hollendorfer have been engulfed in controversies. Asmussen's turn in the barrel came in 2014 when his stable was the unflattering subject of an undercover video produced by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. An investigation of PETA's allegations of animal abuse by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission absolved Asmussen of any wrongdoing, while a second regulatory board, the New York State Gaming Commission, fined Asmussen $10,000 for improperly having a thyroid drug administered to horses in his stable within 48 hours of a race. Other charges made by PETA against Asmussen were unfounded, New York's Gaming Commission said.

Hollendorfer has never been suspended for medication violations, though he has been fined more than a dozen times over 40 years for overages of therapeutic drugs.

On June 22, Hollendorfer was told by The Stronach Group he was no longer welcome to stable or race at the company's tracks, including Golden Gate Fields in Northern California and Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles. Hollendorfer had sizable operations at both tracks.

Hollendorfer was notified of the eviction the morning that American Currency, a horse from his Santa Anita barn, became the 30th racing or training fatality at Santa Anita since the track began its winter meet last Dec. 26. Santa Anita had been under the microscope of local and national media, animal rights groups and state and federal government officials since a spike in fatalities  arose during an unseasonably wet and cold winter in Southern California.

Four of those 30 dead horses were trained by Hollendorfer: Psychedelicat, who was euthanized after a Dec. 30, 2018, race; 2017 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway, who sustained a fatal injury training on Feb. 23; Kochees, fatally injured in a May 26 race; and American Currency, who died as a result of a catastrophic injury while training.

Additionally, two horses from Hollendorfer's Golden Gate stable were euthanized after sustaining training injuries there: River of Doubt on Nov. 11, 2018, and Defiantly on Jan. 6.

Those six horses are among 45 from Hollendorfer's barn that have died as a result of racing or training incidents dating back to 2009, according to statistics provided to the Paulick Report by the California Horse Racing Board, which tracks all fatalities within CHRB-licensed enclosures. Another 14 Hollendorfer horses died from other, non-racing or training-related causes over the same 10 ½ year period, according to the CHRB.

When put into context, those numbers are not unusual or out of line with what we now understand to be a national average for racing fatalities, thanks to the work of The Jockey Club's Equine Injury Database.

From 2009 through June 30, 2019, 20 horses from Hollendorfer's barn were listed by the CHRB as racing fatalities. During that same time frame, 25 died while training.

Hollendorfer started 11,206 runners from 2009-'19 in North America, according to Equibase, the overwhelming majority of them in California. The total number of starts includes a handful of stakes races outside of California and a small percentage of runners at Portland Meadows in Oregon. Twenty fatalities in California from 11,206 starts equates to 1.78 deaths per thousand starts, which is in line with statistics published by the Equine Injury Database over the last 10 years.

While the Equine Injury Database does not yet publish training fatalities, annual reports from the California Horse Racing Board from recent years suggest there is roughly an equal number of horse deaths from training as there are from racing. Hollendorfer does have 25% more fatalities from training than from racing since 2009.

Following Hollendorfer's exclusion by The Stronach Group at Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club told the trainer he would not be allowed to participate at the San Diego-area track's summer meet.

The California Horse Racing Board has not initiated any action against Hollendorfer.

Hollendorfer filed a suit against Del Mar and on July 26 received a preliminary injunction in San Diego County Superior Court overturning Del Mar's ban, pending arbitration between the two parties. Hollendorfer's attorney, Drew Couto, suggested similar legal action may be taken against The Stronach Group.

Following his court victory, Hollendorfer was asked if he contemplated any changes to his operation going forward.

“If I had to guess, I would guess that my stable does more with horses every day than any other stable that I know of,” Hollendorfer said. “We examine every horse, every day, from head to toe. We take them out of their stalls and jog them down the road and make sure that they're sound, before we even consider taking them to the racetrack. I think that we're doing plenty to ensure the safety of our stable. If somebody else has another suggestion, how to do more, then I'm certainly willing to listen.”

CORRECTION: American Currency was euthanized on June 22. The original version of this article identified the horse incorrectly.

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